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Climate change 'not the most important problem the world faces': Abbott

The Prime Minister has again defended Australia's response to climate change, saying his direct action scheme is similar to US policy.

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America is still the greatest country on earth but should view the rise of China as a compliment rather than as a threat, Tony Abbott has counselled on his first visit to the US as Prime Minister.

The moral gee-up came as he prepares to meet US President Barack Obama in Washington this week in talks expected to cover defence, security, economic and environmental issues – including potentially their differing views on the need for a co-ordinated response to climate change.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott

On hand: Prime Minister Tony Abbott is attended in New York by ambassador Kim Beazley. Photo: Andrew Meares

Mr Abbott believes the answer to global warming is for countries to do what is best for them, arguing there is no point “clobbering” the economy.

Mr Obama has recently stepped up his response promising a 30 per cent reduction in coal-fired emissions by 2030 in the US and proposing to use US leadership to secure co-ordinated global action.

In direct contrast to Mr Abbott's position, Mr Obama recently said that if there was one thing he could do to curb global warming it would be to put a price on carbon and then let polluters figure out a way of minimising their costs.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott. Photo: Andrew Meares

But there is more than climate change on this week's agenda.

Speaking to an American Australian Business Association luncheon in Manhattan on Tuesday, Mr Abbott flagged using Australia's presidency of G20 this year to push for tougher co-ordinated global tax laws to stop companies shifting profits to low-tax jurisdictions while they book their costs in higher tax countries such as Australia.

Hammering his now-familiar “open for business” theme, Mr Abbott explained the economic and philosophical underpinnings of his recent budget, admitting it had made the government more unpopular but offering the largely political justification that it was “better to be tough in your first budget than in your last”.

“There's been a political cost, of course, but we have refused to put short-term popularity ahead of long-term respect,” he said.

In a message to multinational companies such as the digital technology giants of the computer age, most of which started in America, Mr Abbott said it was time they paid their share of taxation.

“We need global tax rules to ensure that businesses pay tax in the countries where they earn revenue and we need financial system and energy system governance that better reflects the changing balance of economic power," he said.

Mr Abbott told the gathering of powerful entrepreneurs that America's short and medium-term economic outlook was positive with the economy retooling for a manufacturing revival and a future secured by the fact that America remains “the world's greatest source of ideas”.

He said its fate was also greatly improved because it was moving towards energy self-sufficiency due to that creativity and to “the serendipity of shale gas. America's energy vulnerability is lessening and its economic growth is at last becoming more robust,” he said.

Vice-President Joe Biden is also tipped to be attending the White House meeting and Mr Abbott has secured meetings with other key players, including US Federal Reserve chief Janet Yellen and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

The speech was Mr Abbott's first opportunity to speak to US and Australian business leaders about the opportunities for investors in Australia and an opportunity to meet critics of his government head-on with the PM listing some of his achievements.

These included environmental approval of about half a trillion dollars of projects and progress towards the so-called “one-stop-shop” approach for environmental approvals. There were also free trade agreements with Japan and Korea and another imminent with China as well as 100 major foreign investment proposals.

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Correction: A previous version of this article said Janet Yellen was Treasury Secretary.