The world's biggest mining company has called for Australia to introduce a carbon tax, reopening a debate that helped to bring down the previous prime minister and pitted large sections of the mining community against the powerful environmental lobby. Marius Kloppers, the chief executive of BHP Billiton, warned that the Australian economy would suffer significantly if the country did not implement a carbon tax before the international community imposed one. "Failure to do so will place us at a competitive disadvantage in a future where carbon is priced globally," he said. Mr Kloppers said Australia, which is the largest emitter of carbon dioxide per person in the world, needed to "look beyond coal" for alternative sources of energy before the introduction of a global price on carbon. However, neither major political party has committed to ending the country's love affair with coal, fearing a voter backlash from those employed by the industry. Kevin Rudd, the former prime minister, was dumped by his party earlier this year after he announced he would scrap an ambitious carbon pollution reduction scheme because the opposition had refused to support it. The announcement backfired and Mr Rudd's standing with voters plummeted. In the scheme's place, his successor Julia Gillard has pledged to hold a series of citizens' assemblies to find out what the electorate wants the government to do � a move that has sparked widespread derision and contributed to her party's failure to secure a majority government at the recent general election. Tony Abbott, the leader of the opposition, once described climate change as "absolute crap", and has promised never to introduce a carbon tax. He has banned his MPs from sitting on a cross-party committee to discuss the subject. But Mr Kloppers, whose company made 8% of its revenue from thermal coal production last year, warned that inaction would cripple the country. "We do believe that such a global initiative will eventually come and, when it does, Australia will need to have acted ahead of it to maintain its competitiveness," he said. "Carbon emissions need to have a cost impact in order to cause the consumer and companies to change behaviour and favour low-carbon alternatives. We all recognise this is a politically charged subject. No government relishes telling people that things need to cost more." Ms Gillard, whose government has a majority of just one after entering into a deal with independents and Greens party members, said the government was committed towards working towards a price on carbon.


Subscribe to IEMA's newsletters to receive timely articles, expert opinions, event announcements, and much more, directly in your inbox.