Bob Carr has taken us all for a ride. Plucked out of retirement for a temporary stint as foreign minister, the former NSW premier did a few laps of the globe on taxpayers, messed around with the shambles that is federal Labor and now, despite promises to the contrary, he’ll drop back to his generously taxpayer-funded retirement with lots of material for his next book.
He’ll get gentle treatment, as ever, from most in the media. This former journalist has always seemed to have other journalists in the palm of his hand. So his gaffes and missteps in foreign affairs went largely uncriticised and his cheap political lines were hailed as tactical genius.
And now, even though he promised to stay on and specifically ruled out resigning from the Senate if Labor lost government, he is going. Just another broken commitment. ... he should have been more forthright and should not have nominated to win a new six year Senate term starting next year. While the public will be infuriated at being played for fools by yet another interloper, Carr will get soft treatment from the political class.
...Carr was only ever coming back to politics to have a stint in one of its most interesting and glamorous jobs. He has always had an interest in foreign affairs and so, naturally, jumped at the chance to be foreign minister. He has travelled extensively in just over a year in the job, often with his wife, and according to DFAT insiders, with lots of requests for personal indulgences. And, we are told, he has been keeping diaries for a forthcoming book on these travels, as he has traversed the globe meeting many famous interlocutors.
...Carr wasn’t in the job long enough to ever sound like a practitioner. He often made the mistake of speaking like a commentator on world affairs rather than an advocate for Australia’s interests. Still his more obvious mistakes were perhaps no more than you would expect from a novice foreign minister – being overbearing towards Papua New Guinea and confusing some details over consular cases. Anyone new to the job would make mistakes like these; the trick is to make them only once and learn.
Carr’s more serious missteps involved Australia’s position on Israel. He took his activist-blogger’s approach on this issue into office when he should have left it at the door. He was too quick to condemn Israel and too slow to admonish its enemies. And he happily indulged the anti-Israeli lobby as a price worth paying for Australia’s seat on the UN Security Council.
Hence Carr was happy to send senior diplomats to Tehran to join a meeting of the Non-Aligned Movement, even though we have an ambassador in Iran who could have adequately looked after our interests. And his overly strident and simplistic criticism of Israeli settlements was ill-advised enough, without adding the inflammatory fact that he voiced it to cheers on the steps of the Lakemba mosque.
And this posture against Israel saw Carr, the temporary tourist of federal cabinet, actively lobby against his prime minister at the time. He helped roll Gillard on the crucial issue of whether the Palestinians should be given observer status at the UN. This is not the way to conduct what has been a largely bipartisan and constant area of Australian foreign policy.
His other grave failing was his virtual absence on our most pressing foreign policy challenge – border protection. With no glamour and no easy solutions available in this vexed area, Carr simply decided to avoid it. He dodged his duty – although it must be said he has in recent months been giving his colleagues some sorely needed and sage advice on the need for tough measures.
...of the three Labor foreign ministers over the past six years, Stephen Smith was probably the best. And on foreign policy, Gillard’s instincts were probably stronger than Rudd’s.
So as we await his formal resignation, there are two points worth making about Bob Carr that I expect too few will make.
- Senator Carr got far more out of his foray into federal politics than he gave, either to the ALP or the Australian public.
- And he played voters for fools by promising to line up for another six years in the Senate when an superannuated retirement and a book about his travels were always beckoning.