When is a tax not a tax? When it’s the federal government’s carbon tax, it seems.

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With Julia Gillard in the United States, Acting Prime Minister Wayne Swan has stepped up to the plate to defend Labor’s plan to price carbon – a move he insists is not actually a new tax. “I accept that there’s a lot of confusion about the fact that we are bringing in an interim price, which people describe as a carbon tax,” he told the Nine Network. “But it doesn’t operate like a traditional tax, like (Opposition Leader Tony) Abbott says … it is not deducted from your pay packet, it comes from the big polluters.” Ms Gillard has announced the federal government will move towards imposing a fixed carbon price from mid-2012, followed by an emissions trading scheme (ETS) with a flexible price and an emissions target from as early as 2015. Mr Swan said there was a lot of misrepresentation around carbon pricing and accused the coalition is spruiking a “big lie” to deliberately confuse people about the measure. He maintained the government was not losing the political debate on the issue, even if the opposition’s “great big new tax” mantra was catching on again. Abbott stays on message After a week making his case in Canberra, Mr Abbott stayed on message in his Sydney electorate on Sunday. “If it acts like a tax and it hits you like a tax, it is a tax,” he told reporters at Little Manly. “The important thing is what will it do to people’s cost of living and if it drives up your cost of living, it is a tax.” Opposition finance spokesman Andrew Robb argued it was “economic madness” to price carbon ahead of other nations. “If Australia goes it alone on a price of carbon, then we only do ourselves a damage. There is no environmental gain … we lose jobs and we export emissions,” he told ABC TV. Mr Robb denied the Liberal-National coalition was running a scare campaign, before giving a “cast-iron” guarantee the initiative would be abolished if they won the next election. But cabinet minister Peter Garrett said pricing carbon would give businesses certainty about the direction of the economy. “The best and lowest cost option of reducing emissions is to have a price for carbon,” Mr Garrett told Sky News. “We can’t afford to have a lack of certainty in the investment community or more generally in business about what appropriate actions will be taken to deal with reducing greenhouse gas emissions.” After the opposition moved to censure Labor on the issue four times in parliament last week, the school education minister said Mr Abbott had become “Doctor No”. “We didn’t hear anything new from the coalition other than it was going to be a great big new tax,” Mr Garrett said. “Now, that’s basically Mr Abbott’s default position on any initiatives that are brought forward by the government.”