President Obama has incited tensions with some in the higher levels of Australian government after using his closing remarks at the G20 summit to demand Australia do more to protect the Great Barrier Reef. In response, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop sent a letter to President Obama “briefing” him on the government’s extensive work in protecting the natural treasure.
President Obama’s statements towards the end of the summit appeared to be a response to Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s insistence that the G20 leaders discuss pressing economic topics at the conference and not “climate change.” Abbott has previously dismissed climate change as a less serious issue facing the world today than various regional economic crises, wars, and the ever-constant threat of terror. The Abbott administration also led the charge to repeal Australia’s carbon tax, which had significantly damaged the growth of the economy.
Feeling climate change slighted at the conference, President Obama used his closing remarks to demand preservation of the Great Barrier Reef, one of Australia’s most striking natural phenomena.
“I want to come back, and I want my daughters to be able to come back, and I want them to be able to bring their daughters or sons to visit, and I want that there 50 years from now,” the President said. “”We can get this done and it is necessary for us to get it done because I have not had time to go to the Great Barrier Reef.”
Foreign Minister Julie Bishop responded to the demand by noting that Australia already goes to extraordinary lengths to preserve the reef. Bishop noted that the government spends $155 million a year ($180 Australian dollars) on preserving the reef, and that it takes such preservation “most seriously.” “Australia knows better than anyone the importance of preserving the Great Barrier Reef,” Bishop stated publicly, adding of the President, “I don’t believe that he had been briefed.” The letter sent to the President is said to include details on how the money invested in preservation is being used to keep the reef safe.
The Obama administration has not yet publicly responded to the letter.
Among the loudest state opponents of the global climate change agenda, the current Australian government has previously condemned global climate change efforts as “socialism masquerading as environmentalism” and, jointly with the conservative government of Canada, argued that economic issues are a more direct threat to the quality of life of the world’s impoverished than climate change.