It’s taken years of debates, discussion papers and fallen leaders, but yesterday the senate passed Australia’s first carbon legislation. The Greens secured the carbon tax plan as a prerequisite for its support of a Labor government during the post-election hung parliament.

“Today we have made history,” declared Prime Minister Julia Gillard. “After all of these years of debate and division, our nation has got the job done.”

Deputy leader of The Greens, Christine Milne, announced it a “green-letter day”, saying that Australia had “turned its back on the fossil fuel past and will now move to a renewable energy-powered future.”

Opposition leader Tony Abbott said in a statement that he would continue to fight against the tax: “The commitment I give to the Australian people if we win the next election is that as sure as night follows day this tax will be gone.”

The policy involves a set price on carbon for the top 500 polluters from July 1 next year, which will become a market-based emissions trading scheme after three years. Nearly half of the money raised from the tax will be put towards compensation — mainly throughout tax cuts — which households may be eligible for from next May.

The storms of Canberra captured the imagination of many press gallery journalists — and politicians — yesterday. Jacqueline Maley wrote a great colour piece in the Sydney Morning Herald about the events:

“But just as the fledging legislation stretched its trembly legs and took its first tottery steps towards what the government has dubbed our clean energy future, the sky turned a murderous shade of grey and an almighty downpour drenched Parliament House.

Rivulets formed on the Parliament’s garden paths. Water leaked into the Senate corridor. Thunder clapped and hair went frizzy.

The Prime Minister had specifically told us the world wouldn’t end if we put a price on carbon.

Yet this was looking suspiciously apocalyptic.”

Of course Greens leader Bob Brown replied with a weather-themed zinger to the thunderstorms: “even the heavens are clapping.”

More than anything, yesterday was a win for The Greens, wrote Bernard Keane in Crikey:

“… it was the Greens who dragged Labor back to do what it had promised and then resiled from. It’s their day, having seized on the opportunity afforded by a minority government, adeptly exploiting the hung parliament delivered by Labor’s ineptitude.”

Tony Abbott has “pledged in blood” to repeal the carbon tax if he’s elected prime minister. Yet amid the fanfare yesterday — complete with Liberal and National Senators calling it “an extremely sad day for Australia” — Abbott was missing, heading off the UK for a meeting of conservative world leaders. Abbott should have been there, reckons Simon Benson in the Daily Telegraph:

“For a bloke who vowed to commit every drop of blood in his body to fight the carbon tax, it was a hasty retreat from the battleground he promised to prevail upon.

Abbott failed to stop the tax. He probably should have been there to accept the defeat, instead of leaving the Coalition’s political territory to be defended by the Nationals.”

Abbott may need to rethink his opposition to the mining tax, but for his own political sake he needs to maintain his rage against the carbon tax, says Paul Kelly in The Australian:

“For Abbott, this is the repeal that matters, not the mining tax. The campaign against the carbon tax is the absolute key to Abbott’s political future.

Can Abbott sustain his anti-carbon tax campaign? Yes, he can.”

It’ll be tough economically for Abbott to roll it back after the carbon tax has been implemented, notes The Australian‘s editorial:

“The passing of Labor’s carbon legislation also presents a serious dilemma for Tony Abbott, who has sworn a “blood oath” to repeal it, while pledging to match the government in cutting emissions by 5 per cent by 2020. The Opposition Leader’s problem is how to achieve such a cut without a market mechanism.”

Abbott’s wrecker mentality will likely fail long-term if he becomes PM, argues Annabel Crabb over at ABC’s The Drum:

“But if dismantlement becomes the singular, or even the principal purpose of an incoming government, experience tells us that trouble soon follows. Look at the Gillard Government, haunted by its silent task of erasing certain telltale traces of its immediate predecessor. Any government that defines itself overwhelmingly by what it is not, rather than what it is, creates a hollow at the core of its being, especially once its enemy has been eliminated.”

The carbon legislation is a large personal victory for Gillard, writes Michelle Grattan in The Age:

“A Labor leadership challenge this year was never likely, but Gillard is now certainly safe into 2012. She has the breathing space for some recovery, if she is up to it.”

Gemma Jones in The Daily Telegraph reported the carbon tax legislation rather oddly, with an article titled ‘Just who’s going to pay our bills now that the carbon tax has passed’:

“But as the carbon tax Julia Gillard vowed never to impose was passed into law, yesterday marked a dark day for the majority of Australians opposed to it. According to her detractors, Ms Gillard’s “betrayal” was now complete.

And with the passing of the controversial tax came an admission from the government it had effectively divided the nation — anyone who disagreed with it would stand accused as a ‘naysayer’ or ‘denier’.”

Andrew Bolt — a long-time public opponent of the tax — said the “heavens were laughing” yesterday in his Herald Sun column:

“What a terrible day. What an indictment of our credulity. What a blow to our future, so reliant on the cheap coal-fired power now to be made dangerously expensive.

And for what? Not one scientist says this carbon dioxide tax will slow global warming by anything anyone can measure.”

Perhaps now the debate will not just be a cheap political game, argues Lenore Taylor in the Sydney Morning Herald:

“The battle over this policy can now continue on the basis of facts and lived experience rather than scare campaigns — facts about how much prices rise and to what extent families are compensated, facts about whether jobs are really lost and facts about whether the Coalition really has found a cheaper, better way to reduce emissions than the very same market mechanism they once advocated.