Back in 2003, while Bob Carr was still Premier of NSW, he wrote a short pamphlet entitled What Australia Means To Me. "There is no country happier than this," Carr beamed. "A country where the birds laugh at us. A funny country, in the nicest way. Perhaps I'd add now: an unpretentious country. For what I'd like to see is a patriotism without pomposity, never solemn or grandiose, and never saccharine."
A decade later, it's hard to think of a figure in Australian public life whose pomposity, put-upon solemnity and grandiose self-image exceeds Carr's. "I soar above the mundane and serve my country," the former foreign minister wrote in his latest book, a diary of his short period in the Gillard-Rudd ministry.
The publication of Diary Of A Foreign Minister could not have come at worse time for Labor — although any time seems to be the worst time for the ALP. Coming as it does immediately after the party's poor showing in the WA poll, the book has again dredged up the old hatreds of the Rudd-Gillard government for public display.
That's bad enough. Carr's "diva" performances won't do Labor any favours either. But most importantly, coverage of the book reveals a foreign minister who was surprisingly impotent. In particular, in an interview on 7.30 last night, Carr bemoaned the "extraordinary influence" the Israel Lobby had over Julia Gillard's prime ministership and the way he was cut out of the picture.
"I had to resist [the Israel lobby]and my book tells the story of that resistance coming to a climax when there was a dispute on the floor of caucus about my recommendation that we don't block the Palestinian bid for increased non-state status at the United Nations," he told Sarah Ferguson.
"I think the great mistake of the pro-Israel lobby in Melbourne is to express an extreme right-wing Israeli view rather than a more tolerant liberal Israeli view," Carr said, "and in addition to that, to seek to win on everything, to block the Foreign Minister of Australia through their influence with the Prime Minister's office."
Labor MP Michael Danby called Carr a "bigot" over the comments. Danby also said Carr was being ungrateful to the party that placed him in the ministerial role to begin with. "In retrospect, given all the division he caused … it was a mistake," Danby said, referring to Carr's switching support from Gillard to Rudd.
Carr, for his part, has called himself a "Labor loyalist", who joined Rudd in 2013 after he began to believe that "The very viability of social democracy in Australia, of a viable Australian Labor Party, is now at stake".
The book, and the ongoing tit-for-tat that will be the result of its publication, will drown out current noises being made on party reform. In particular, the efforts of Neal Lawson, a British Labour guru who recently visited Australia, have gone all but unreported. Lawson, has written a must-read essay for the Evatt Foundation, in which he asks whether the ALP wants to regain power, or merely regain office.
"There is a difference," Lawson wrote. "Being in office means you have the trappings of power and can make a narrow band of decisions to impact on the symptoms of the things we care about but not the causes … Power, on the other hand, is the ability to change the world — to transform it — to stop the poor from getting poorer and the planet from burning."
Lawson analyses the causes of Labor's crisis in a much more sophisticated way than is usually seen, going beyond the standard union-factions framework of Labor criticism (although he writes on those topics too). It is a shame his visit to Australia was not more widely promoted. It's a trend: the 2013 visit of UK Labour peer Maurice Glasman, whose influential "Blue Labour" philosophy is one proposed solution to the decline of social democracy, also received little attention.
From within the ALP, Senator John Faulkner has announced that he will push for far-reaching reforms to party rules at the National Conference in July, including "the preselection by ballot of the full party membership in NSW for Senate and NSW Legislative Council candidates", and integrity rules for those in office. Anything else, the Senator said, would be mere "window dressing" and would be an insufficient reply to the corruption scandals ripping through the party.
Not even a week after a devastatingly low primary vote in WA, and with a Royal Commission to add to Labor's ICAC woes, perhaps Carr might have learned some of Faulkner's humility and kept his diaries private for the time being. Who knows. Perhaps Carr was too busy working on his "concave abdomen defined by deep-cut obliques” to realise that his party is in crisis.
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