Shorten rules out carbon tax return

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Labor will not bring a carbon tax to the next election but a market mechanism is still the best way of dealing with emissions, Opposition Leader Bill Shorten says.

While urging the government to address China's recently introduced tariff on Australian coal, Mr Shorten said the Australian people had spoken on the carbon tax at the last election, which saw Labor lose office.

"We will not have a carbon tax, the Australian people have spoken and Labor is not going to go back to that," Mr Shorten told reporters in Sydney on Saturday.

Fairfax Media had earlier reported Mr Shorten had confirmed Labor would take a carbon price, although not a tax, to the election.

"Labor doesn't support a carbon tax, but in terms of real and effective action on climate change I do support a market-based system to set a price and that's where the rest of the world's going," Mr Shorten was quoted as saying.

On Saturday he said it was "important we use the market ... to help set a priority in terms of tackling climate change.

"So we will have a sensible policy on climate change. We do want to tackle carbon pollution, but we won't be going back to what you saw in the past."

Mr Shorten also urged the government to "sort out" China's surprise decision during free trade talks to impose tariffs on Australian coal.

The decision is a blow to Australian producers dealing with China, the second biggest market for coal, and comes as free trade negotiations continue with an agreement expected later this year.

"This is a new obstacle in the path of Australian coal," Mr Shorten said.

"I think the government looks silly when it talks about negotiating a free trade agreement with China, the very people it says it's making new progress in negotiations with.

"The government needs to sort this issue out."

Mr Shorten praised the industry for making real efforts to remain competitive, but said mineral producers on the east coast of the country were doing it tough.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott on Friday described China's decision as a hiccup.

"This is the kind of hiccup in our biggest and most important trading relationship that we just don't want or need," the prime minister told reporters in Canberra on Friday.

"I think that we will work with the Chinese to get to the bottom of what seems to have happened overnight."

Environment Minister Greg Hunt said it didn't matter what name the opposition wanted to give it, his proposed plan was a carbon tax.

"It's a carbon tax. He knows it, we know it, the Australian people know it," Mr Hunt told reporters in Launceston on Saturday.

"He should at least be honest and call it for what it is."

The tax would do damage to families, jobs and the economy and wouldn't reduce emissions in any significant way, Mr Hunt said.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott mocked Mr Shorten's announcement on climate change saying "nothing had changed".

"What's the one idea he's come up with in 12 months as leader? Bring back the carbon tax," Mr Abbott told the Tasmanian Liberal Party state conference.

"Well, nothing's changed. It's still the same old Labor."

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