Hearing your home country described as an environmentally backwards mining outpost is more than enough to fire up any young greenie. Especially when you're not the one saying it.
Being that young greenie, I've spend this past weekend responding fiercely to the slander thrown at me by my international colleagues at the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro.
Had they missed the memo about Australia recently establishing the largest network of marine reserves in the world? The 3.1 million square kilometres of legally protected marine areas? The saving of the Coral Sea?
Australia was back on track to being environmental leaders, I told them. They agreed enthusiastically.
Then I heard that our Environment Minister had been grounded, held hostage by a federal opposition with a pitiful fondness for petty politics.
Australia's federal opposition seems keen to sink this positive environmental identity of Australia with their deliberate tactic to prevent Tony Burke from attending Rio.
It reflects a sad state of affairs in Australia, and the degree to which our environmental debates, whether it be the carbon tax 'apocalypse' or conservation short-sightedness, have become insulated and deplorable.
Technically, the opposition approved Burke's absence from Parliament for the Rio Conference, having only delayed his departure for the moment. It does mean however that Burke will miss the only formal program being hosted by Australia in Rio. The event, on Indigenous Rangers, is intended to highlight Australia's leadership in encouraging countries to promote involvement by Indigenous peoples in environmental management.
But by refusing Minister Burke a pair during question time on Tuesday, the opposition makes Australia one of the few countries without its Environment Minister at the negotiations.
It comes as no great surprise; the opposition are simply extending their national monosyllabic refusals and stunting Australia's contribution in the international arena.
Their inability to see beyond partisan politics and recognise the worth in having our Environment Minister in Rio is damaging, both for our international relations and for Australia's ability to have a clout in negotiations over the future of global sustainability.
But it is damaging for more than just the inability to see beyond our borders. It reinforces the current emptiness of environmental discussions in Australia.
Supporters of Burke's grounding will no doubt point to the oppositions reasons for clipping his wings: that the Environment Minister must remain in Australia to face question time over his marine parks announcement.
''Why should [Mr Burke] be able to drop a bombshell and just disappear overseas? The interests of the Australian public need to be a priority,'' cried Opposition Whip Warren Entsch.
The environment is being negated in favour of political point-scoring. Making life difficult for our Environment Minister apparently trumps making life easier for future generations.
It also dismisses the importance of Australia's work in ensuring a sustainable future.
Coincidently, the issue of oceans management is just as vital at the Rio Conference, with real progress being made as opposed to the hollow to-and-fro of question time. There are a number of proposals being negotiated in a working group chaired by Australia regarding the future of the world's ocean. These proposals will determine international action on sustainable fishing, marine protection and the livelihoods of millions who depend on fishing.
Only last week was the importance of the Rio Conference on this matter emphasised by a number of NGOs and scientists.
"Rio+20 might be our last real chance to save ocean ecosystems and make sure we can manage marine fish stocks in a sustainable way," said Zoological Society of London's marine policy officer Liane Veitch.
Australia last week took the lead on oceans. Here in Rio, it has received praise from civil society and international delegates.
But by halting Burke, the federal opposition not only stops Australia from contributing to international efforts; it also signals that the internationally-praised marine protection zones are so threatening to Australia that our Minister cannot even fulfill his duties in Rio.
While Australia's plans could be stronger, they are an important step forward both for Australia and for the world action on oceans. The federal opposition shows itself as being out of sync with international debates, and toxic to Australia's ability to act as a leader on environmental issues on any stage.
Sustainable development shouldn't be treated as a partisan issue, and Australia's role in the international community should not be denigrated in favour of our trivial question time antics. The Rio Conference is crucial, and Australia needs it's top environmental representatives here. Australia cannot be left behind as an environmentally backwards mining outpost.
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