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Carbon caper heats up

Labor moves to neutralise the Coalition's carbon pricing attack with a raft of changes, but Tony Abbott says it's just more con.

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Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's decision to dump the fixed price on carbon was always going to be made based on politics rather than policy.

In that sense it is smart politics.

The policy - and politics - of carbon pricing have dogged the federal government since 2010 when Opposition Leader Tony Abbott demolished former prime minister Julia Gillard's credibility by constantly calling her a liar.

What was an electoral plus for Labor in 2007 was a big minus three years later.

As soon as Mr Rudd regained the prime ministership in late June he indicated the fixed price phase was as good as gone.

He wanted to neutralise the issue as soon as possible and this is what he has done.

Tuesday's announcement comes after the government had already coasted on 48 hours of media coverage confirming its decision (without providing any details).

All it said on Sunday - after leaking the story to select newspapers - was that the fixed price phase would be shorter than originally planned and that the household assistance package would stay.

That was confirmed on Tuesday, but it was also accompanied by the details about where the $3.8 billion would come from to keep the budget's equilibrium.

Such a big figure suggests the government would be scrambling to try and find further savings should it make good on its signals to fix other problematic policy areas.

It should certainly make people who want something done to increase the unemployment payment, Newstart, less optimistic.

It also raises the question of where the money would come from if the government does, as it has indicated it will, offer some kind of solution to the issue of the 84,000 sole parents whose payments were cut earlier this year.

The areas where the carbon policy savings are coming from are another indication that this is about politics not policy - scrapping of fringe benefit tax arrangements for cars and about $1 billion in practical environmental programs such as biodiversity and assistance for farmers.

Environment groups have been calling for years for the major parties to reconsider tax concessions for company cars.

The government has finally listened and done this but there is little mention in Mr Rudd's press conference about the contribution cars make to greenhouse gas emissions and the neat way the two decisions complemented one another.

Instead the government was at pains to point out that people who are already beneficiaries of the scheme would be okay - it's just new contracts that will be affected.

At one point Mr Rudd listed the importance of different groups in forming his decision - cash-strapped families were first, followed by small business and then the environment.

Mr Rudd then promptly issued a challenge to Opposition Leader Tony Abbott for another debate - this time on climate policy.

This is a challenge he knows full well Mr Abbott won't accept.

But it gets coverage and takes up space that might otherwise be devoted to coverage of other aspects of the announcement.

There is no benefit to Mr Abbott in accepting Mr Rudd's challenge any more than there would be in Mr Rudd deciding that Mr Abbott is right to demand he name the election date.

Greens leader Christine Milne said on Sunday that the carbon tax decision was ''all about politics and not policy''.

Despite Climate Change Minister Mark Butler's attempt to sell the decision ''from the environment's point of view'' the environment rated fewer mentions than the people worried about the cost of action on climate change.

After all, they are the voters.

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