Via Grog’s Gamut, a transcript from Hansard of our PM describing both the mechanism and the goals:
Ms GILLARD–Let me explain in detail our mechanism for pricing carbon. The first proposition is an incredibly simple one. At the moment carbon pollution can be released into the atmosphere for free. There is no disincentive for doing that. We will put a price on carbon, a price on every unit of carbon pollution. It will be paid for by businesses and as a result, because our business community is smart and adaptable and innovative, they will work out ways of pursuing their business and generating less carbon pollution. They will work out ways of making sure they pay less of a price when carbon is priced.
Then they will enter into contracts, they will make investments on the basis of understanding the rules and understanding that carbon will be priced. And as they go about making those transitions, innovating, making the new investments of the future, we will work with those businesses in transition to a clean economy.
Having priced carbon and seen that innovation, yes, there will be pricing impacts; that is absolutely right. That is the whole point: to make goods that are generated with more carbon pollution relatively more expensive than goods that are generated with less carbon pollution. But because we are a Labor government this will be done in a fair way. We will assist households as we transition with this new carbon price.
What that means is that people will walk into a shop with money in their pocket, the government having provided them with assistance. They will see the price signals on the shelves in front of them—things with less pollution, less expensive; things with more pollution, more expensive—and they too will adapt and change. They will choose the lower pollution products, which is exactly what we want them to do. Between the business investment and innovation, between households who have been assisted in a fair way by a Labor government responding to price signals, we will see a transition to a cleaner economy, to a low-pollution economy.
So yes, it’s not any sort of secret that this policy is aimed at changing behaviour, both of producers and consumers. Apparently, some folks think that governments should never, ever aim to change people’s behaviour: that legislating and regulating systems of incentives and disincentives is beyond the pale, or at least the scope, of the proper government role. I don’t get this. It makes me wonder whether they think we’d be better off without traffic rules.