BOOK REVIEW News Weekly
The man who would be PM
, June 7, 2014
DIARY OF A FOREIGN MINISTER
by Bob Carr
(Sydney: NewSouth Books)
Hardcover: 512 pages
Reviewed by John Barich
This is a peculiar book based on Bob Carr’s diary when he was Labor Minister of Foreign Affairs from March 2012 to September 2013.
He makes no attempt to explain why some of his entries extend to four pages and one even to 11. It appears that the diary just provides a marker which he has then expanded from other documents.
In one entry he includes a five-page email from Kim Beazley, Australia’s ambassador to Washington, discussing Australian relations with the United States and China and naming key players in the Commonwealth public service and Australian armed forces. Did Mr Carr cut and paste the contents of this email into his diary, and is it proper protocol to disclose the thinking of our current ambassador to the U.S.?
Much of Carr’s time, during his 18-months’ tenure, was preoccupied with winning a seat for Australia on the United Nations Security Council. Surprisingly, he does not mention the unprecedented visit to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) by Julia Gillard, when she was Prime Minister, to congratulate the department on this achievement, but without Carr being present.
Almost from the day he began in the job, Carr gave himself at most 18 months as Minister for Foreign Affairs.
He was convinced that Labor would lose the next election; but the return of Kevin Rudd as Prime Minister could mean he might be removed from his post even earlier.
The book recounts 17 months of frenetic action (April 9, 2012 to September 7, 2013), which should have concluded with the end of Carr’s peregrinations; but in fact this reviewer spotted him, as recently as April 2014, in Hobart, where he was whisked away in a limousine. Was this ALP or private business?
A significant amount of his time in office was spent helping Australians in difficulties with overseas authorities. Carr comments, “At times it has been the biggest question in our bilateral relationships. Our ambassador is engaged full time on it.”
On the day of American author Gore Vidal’s death, Carr describes his friendship with Vidal and his homosexual partner. He offers his own philosophy of life, saying, “We just go into the void” — the finality of death.
One wonders whether this attitude partly explains his indulgent life-style — first-class comfort on planes, gourmet food, English sub-titles for German opera, sartorial elegance and a dependence on sleeping pills. However, regular reference to his wife Helena shows a penchant for constancy.
Carr produces many useful pen-pictures of world leaders, such as former French socialist President François Mitterrand, and especially of foreign ministers and their advisers. His description of Indonesia’s Foreign Minister, Dr Marty Natalegawa, who regularly appears on Australian television, is particularly noteworthy.
Carr’s attitude to Israel at the United Nations was opposed by Prime Minister Gillard, but supported by a former Labor Minister for Foreign Affairs, Gareth Evans, who is still involved in the UN and whom Carr regards as his mentor. Evans was furious that Australia voted “No” along with only seven other countries on a dispute between Lebanon and Israel about compensation for an oil slick.
Carr recounts his frequent attempts to cope with jetlag and fatigue, but does not seem to have heard of the solution used by French diplomats — they regularly take an afternoon siesta.
Peppered throughout the book are his reflections on how he believes he would have been a better choice for PM had Caucus sought to remove Ms Gillard. On the eve of her downfall, as Labor’s popularity continued plummeting, Carr became less confident about attempting to “do a Gorton” and run for the party leadership while still a senator.
He appears to be impressed with former socialist president of Chile, Michelle Bachelet, now executive director of the UN Women, who promotes so-called “reproductive rights” (i.e., abortion). This could explain why Australia consistently voted for abortion at the UN.
Carr’s use of one of Whitlam’s speech writers, Graham Freudenberg, resulted in some memorable addresses. He is particularly gushing about one he delivered on ANZAC Day in France.
Carr drew on the expertise of British Commonwealth diplomats in discussing the war in Sri Lanka, when Canada was wanting to boycott the Colombo Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM).
Australia provided leadership to other countries in resisting such a boycott, and also declined to support Caribbean countries’ agenda for climate-change action to stop rising seas.
Carr observed that foreign affairs gatherings such as CHOGM or G20 reminded him of COAG meetings which he attended as Premier of NSW — very difficult to reach agreement.
He is impressed by the Ibadi form of Islam which is neither Sunni nor Shi’ite and which stresses reconciliation.
Carr refers to at least two international gatherings designed to advance the cause of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual (LGBT) people.
He waxes lyrical about the impressive reduction in child mortality, but does not mention the 40 or so million babies who are not born each year because of the scourge of abortion.
Carr has an abiding interest in Shakespeare. He claims that he is probably one of the very few people in the world who has read all 39 of the Bard’s plays. While minister, Carr memorised seven soliloquies from Hamlet.
For all its shortcomings, Diary of a Foreign Minister provides a valuable perspective on current events and contemporary statesmen.
John Barich is a retired Commonwealth public servant.