Paul Watson has never played it safe. In 1972 he was one of the founding members and directors of Greenpeace.

He still has his original membership card, numbered 007. One year later, on the other side of the world, Peter Garrett became a member of a rock band called Midnight Oil.

While he and his highly talented mates were churning out stirring lyrics espousing important environmental and social issues, Watson was organising Greenpeace's first campaign to oppose whaling.

In the months that followed, Garrett was honing his hits in the pubs while Watson was taking on everything from the Soviet whaling fleet to the powerful business lobby of the seal-fur traders on the east coast of Canada.

Both men made a big impact and both followed up with more action. At one point they even found themselves standing side-by-side, protesting clear-felling in the Clayquot Valley on Vancouver Island.

Garrett went on to become president of the Australian Conservation Foundation while selling thousands of albums that covered everything from land rights to corporate greed to US foreign policy, nuclear dangers and environmental catastrophe.

Watson, meantime, left Greenpeace in disgust over what he thought was a lack of action and too many bureaucrats. He founded the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society and under that banner became the bane of polluters and whalers around the globe and was named one of the environmental heroes of the 20th century by Time magazine.

To this day, he accuses Greenpeace of being more interested in soliciting donations to raise its corporate profile than actually protecting the environment. When it comes to whaling, he says, they are ''doing little but ocean posing, getting photo ops to raise large amounts of funds and not using those funds to defend whales''.

Garrett's road to ruin seemed to begin with a photo op in 2004. Drafted by Mark Latham _ maybe there's a clue in there _ he made noises about being able to do more from the inside as a decision-maker rather than a protester.

That predictable twaddle became a precursor to dumping his personal file of beliefs and morals into a giant recycle bin.

Now, it appears everything he has ever been respected for has been largely forsaken.

Since becoming a minister, he has approved the expansion of a uranium mine and the dredging of a sensitive bay and provided support to a pulp mill, but perhaps what mystifies most is his stance on whaling.

On September 18, 2007, Garrett promised, ''We will enforce Australian law banning the slaughter of whales in the Australian Whale Sanctuary'', and ''Labor has the guts to stand up to the Japanese whalers''.

There's a lot more to the press release, but it's all a big fib. In the election that followed, Pinocchio Garrett and his mates raked in the Green votes while convincing good people like Paul Watson to talk them up on the back of those porky pies. Having won office, they then left the Japanese to randomly kill as many whales as they liked.

The fact is, the Japanese operate illegally in our waters and Garrett's office does nothing. No, worse than nothing _ it panders to the Japanese through lap-dog diplomacy and spends time criticising not the Japanese lawbreakers but the only ones who have the guts to protect the whales _ Watson's Sea Shepherd. Maybe it's because Watson reminds Garrett of how far he has slid.

We used to think his epileptic dance moves were part and parcel of a uniquely individual personality that would not be swayed by the stiffest of breezes. We even put up with his more brazen protests because, well, that was just Garrett and at least he had the courage of his convictions.

How wrong we were.

Remember the closing ceremony of the Sydney Olympics? Hard to believe it was only eight and a half years ago that he was out there thumbing his nose at a prime minister on an international stage, wearing a black tracksuit emblazoned with ''Sorry'' _ but when you become part of the establishment, you roll over and let your ministerial mates tickle your tummy.

It's a breathtaking turnaround _ use an event designed to showcase Australia to score your own cheap political point and then, when things get hard, turn your back on what most Australians want and throw your own value system out the nearest porthole.

The only thing Watson has thrown is the odd stink bomb at a bunch of Japanese fishermen who masquerade as scientists. But even if you don't agree with his tactics, you can be absolutely sure Watson is trying to do the right thing.

I had the pleasure of spending time with him last year in Atlanta, where 60 Minutes enlisted his help in highlighting the plight of captive whale sharks in one of America's biggest aquariums.

Despite his hectic schedule, he went out of his way to ensure we could bring the story home and let as many people as possible see what was happening to these amazing creatures. He was not concerned with his profile or how he would be seen, and couldn't care less what he was asked or how he was treated by the aquarium staff, as long as the animal's plight was front and centre. This bloke was the real deal.

Conversely, to go back and read the words that Garrett helped write invites a level of incredulity that is rare indeed. Take Power and the Passion, for example: You take what you get and get what you please.

It's better to die on your feet than to live on your knees. By this reckoning, the Environment Minister is at least 10cm shorter than when he started, and dragging his ankles as I write.

I used to think the strongest part of Garrett was his conscience, but I now realise it must be his most flexible asset. He is now, not as a politician but as an individual, so compromised that I wonder if he knows any more what he really stands for.

And I ask myself: How does he sleep when his bed is obviously burning?