Diary of a Foreign Minister

Diary of a Foreign Minister

by Bob Carr

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Six years after vacating his position as the longest-serving premier of New South Wales, Bob Carr returned to politics in his dream job: as foreign minister of Australia and a senior federal cabinet minister. For 18 months he kept a diary documenting a whirl of high-stakes events on the world stage—the election of Australia to the UN Security Council, the war in Syria, and meetings with the most powerful people on the planet. And they all unfold against the gripping, uncertain domestic backdrop of Labor Party infighting, plummeting polls, and a leadership change from Gillard back to Rudd. This compelling diary provides an intimate glimpse into the day-to-day workings of a foreign minister and proves that Carr is not only a master politician and statesman but a great writer as well.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781742241708
Publisher: UNSW Press
Publication date: 08/01/2014
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 512
File size: 643 KB

About the Author

Bob Carr is a former premier of New South Wales and a former senator, serving as minister of foreign affairs from March 2012 to September 2013. His previous books are My Reading Life and Thoughtlines.

Read an Excerpt

Diary of a Foreign Minister

By Bob Carr

University of New South Wales Press Ltd

Copyright © 2014 Bob Carr
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-74224-674-1



Sydney to New York

Okay, in my next life I return as a bon vivant, gourmet and imbiber.

Breakfast of croissants lathered with tangy French butter and bitter marmalade; outsize cups of caramel-coloured black coffee; fried eggs and burnt-to-a-crisp bacon. Buoyed through the day with heavily watered whisky and a pint of champagne, in the Churchillian manner. Getting off a train or plane, exhaling fumes of Pol Roger, waving around a cigar dunked in cognac. A bowler hat held aloft a silver-topped cane. Flushed and merry.

A pre-lunch gin while a bottle from Côte de Nuits breathes on a table, and the crisp tablecloth being set with asparagus in hollandaise sauce and snails with garlic and butter; the beef bourguignon whirled in potatoes sautéed in duck fat; even a plate of snout, udders, brains and tongue.

Followed by profiteroles.

Bismarck ate and drank like this.

A flamboyant cholesterol level. Rolls of blubber stretching my belt. My cardiac apparatus straining.

Dead at seventy. Big deal.

This is my fantasy, slumped on the plane flying QF107 Sydney to New York.

A tediously long journey, first, to campaign in the UN for a seat on the Security Council. Then fly to Brussels for a conference of coalition partners in Afghanistan. After that divert to Malta to clinch their vote in that UN ballot and return to Washington for my first meeting with Secretary of State Clinton. The distance cruel, the jetlag manic.

I decline bread, alcohol, desserts; half doze over volumes of briefing notes.

In my next life ...


New York

At our first meeting – departmental head and new minister – Dennis Richardson's advice had been unequivocal: my first overseas trip as Foreign Minister could not be China; it had to be the US. 'Going to China first is just not worth the fuss.' I presume he meant it would require too much explanation, too much messaging, even pressure for overcompensation down the track.

I was happy to accept his advice, apart from a trip to New Zealand, which I visited even before I was sworn in, and a visit to the ASEAN world – Cambodia, Vietnam and Singapore – between March 24 and March 31.

Now in New York we stay with our Permanent Representative – that is, our UN Ambassador – Gary Quinlan, at the Beekman Place apartment that has been residence for our ambassadors since the early 1950s. Beekman Place comprises two blocks of townhouses and apartment buildings. Tree-shaded and secluded, it could be a stage set for a comedy about upper-class life in Manhattan. The swanky 16-storey building was completed in 1930 in the same era as the Pierre Hotel and the Empire State Building, a brick building from the grand era of Manhattan construction. It has a platoon of doormen on duty whenever we host a cocktail party. Prehistoric Rockefellers are said to be stranded on some of the upper floors. It overlooks the East River – Roosevelt Island in full view – and is a block from the UN. It's a two-floor apartment, gracious and roomy, but, in our corner room upstairs, it is marred by nagging traffic noise. Just the thing to really agitate jetlagged nerves, and no species of jetlag competes with that engendered by a 21-hour trip from Australia to the American east coast. Medical journals should chronicle it. I slept last night after a melatonin tablet, and when I snapped awake – wide awake, stubbornly awake, ready for battle – at midnight, two Normison.

Last night, having just arrived from Sydney, I had gone straight into a video conference with Canberra, at the mission's Midtown offices. The subject was my budget, the prospect of cuts in the rate of growth in spending on overseas aid. A week ago there was a hint from the Prime Minister's foreign policy adviser, Richard Maude, that the Prime Minister might be open to revisiting this. Reversing the decision to cut growth and settling on a softer option previously considered and rejected. So I took this up over the conference line. Penny Wong (Finance) was in the chair. She and the others listened. After ten-and-a-half years running my own government, with the final say on money, here I am cast as a mendicant minister. Wong may have been receptive. No decision taken. A relief if the Prime Minister sides with me. I'm booked in to talk to her by phone on Friday.

Today started with briefings in the Beekman Place apartment. I countered the jetlag – sleep deprivation, melatonin, Normison – with a strong coffee followed by cups of hot water with lemon. I took up the cause – politely, tentatively (I'm a neophyte minister) – of getting more personality into the department's briefing notes. 'It's dead prose,' I told them. 'Please, some journalistic colour.' Quinlan agreed; he's worked for Kevin Rudd as Prime Minister; it'd been fought over before. I was doing a lunchtime address to the American Australian Association. Still not getting decent prepared speeches from my department or my staff so I cobbled together notes, added anecdotes, inserted jokes. A lunchtime address. You don't need much. A joke, an anecdote, a bit of praise for the Yanks. For what? American creativity. American resilience. That always works. Plus eye contact with the audience – don't clutch a script. In the end, it ended up a lively speech. Years of practice sometimes works.

I texted Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa, spoke by phone to British Foreign Secretary William Hague. Saw my op-ed on our bid for a Security Council seat published back home in The Australian.

I'm absorbing all the diplomatic trivia I can. Will I soon begin to be a Foreign Minister?

Every fibre of my being tells me, 'It's 3 am at home! Get some sleep!'

I stare down jetlag, defy it.


New York

Formal meeting with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in his small conference room on the third floor of the famous UN building overlooking the East River. A largely scripted meeting. Opening remarks from both of us. Then I raised a point; he responded. Pessimism on Syria, Iran, North Korea. I have to remember what former Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld said in 1954, a quote Quinlan is always ready with: 'The United Nations was not created in order to bring us to heaven, but in order to save us from hell.'

Then I met Michelle Bachelet, Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN Women. A former centre-left President of Chile (2006–2010) and likely to run again, her family a victim of the blood-spattered Pinochet and his torturers. She likes Australia, lived with us as an exile from Pinochet and had been involved in Third Way Blair–Clinton initiatives and politics. I said our AusAID program had lifted the number of women who serve as PNG village magistrates from ten to 700 over the last ten years. The Pacific region is the worst for women's participation in politics. She acknowledged this. She is just back from Libya. Democracy in the Arab world – the Arab Spring – means nothing for gender, she said. Women in Egypt will go backwards.

At 3 pm I gave a speech to the Permanent Representatives – that is, ambassadors – from nations belonging to the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation. A decent departmental speech and I stuck to it. Full turnout of the fifty-seven members; even Syria and Iran represented. I acknowledged the Syrian and expressed a hope for peace in his battered country. I was happy with this effort. No neuralgic issues. But my little triumph was a 6.30 pm speech to a reception at the Ambassador's for the representatives from the Asia–Pacific – Mongolia to Palau, Japan to Pakistan. Threw away the boring text. Lifted the atmosphere with humour and personality. If this activity and goodwill amounts to anything (it may not, of course), well, we couldn't be cramming more in to harvest votes for October's ballot for the Security Council.

Back home, the Israel lobby complains at my statement expressing concern at settlements. So, we can't even 'express concern' without complaint. This lobby must fight every inch. The old story. What do they want? That Australia declares its full support for Israeli colonisation of the Palestinian Territories? Urge that settlement numbers be lifted beyond half a million? Doubled? Bruce Wolpe, on the Prime Minister's staff, has suggested I do a teleconference with 'the community'. My response: no.

Slept okay with one melatonin tablet, one Normison. Worked out in the building's gym – intervals on the cross-trainer and sumo squats with forty-five kilos. The kitchen staff – the chef, Ian White; the butler, Danny Espinola; and the housemaid, Teresa Guerrero – know that for breakfast it's got to be (1) organic steel-cut oats (2) lots of berries, every kind (3) two poached eggs. Fight jetlag with fibre and protein ricocheting with antioxidants.


New York

Today I spoke in the 'high-level debate on disaster risk reduction' convened by the President of the General Assembly. Later I was briefed on our relations with the twenty-one Arab nations prior to hosting a lunch with their Permanent Representatives at our Ambassador's residence. In the evening I hosted a reception on disaster risk reduction in the marquee in the grounds of the UN.

Then a five-minute trip to 52Street.

A sea of emerald gladioli; potted orchids; spot-lit paintings in gold frames; Nancy Kissinger tall and lean and welcoming in a dress that trails, and Henry deliberate at eighty-eight, same stubborn wavy hair, outsize square-frame glasses and alert, humorous eyes – Henry Kissinger, just as in all the documentaries about foreign policy and US politics in the '70s. My favourite world-historical figure. We were first at the dinner he was hosting in my honour in his apartment in River House on 52Street, Midtown East, the 26-storey tower of limestone and grey brick right on the East River. The building was thrown up in 1931 – again, from that enchanting period of Manhattan construction: an Art Deco block looking over the East River. Enter by a landscaped courtyard and the foyer is a long gallery reception hall. In fact, until the construction of FDR Drive in the 1940s there was a private mooring for the yachts of the residence. It's a symbol of the WASP-moneyed America of the 1930s. The place is said to be so exclusive the board rejected Gloria Vanderbilt, Diane Keaton and Richard Nixon.

'The celebration in the Kissinger family on the news of your appointment was indecent,' he said – so generous, so gracious – at the circular table in the wood-panelled dining room, Dutch flower painting on the wall behind him, and Rupert Murdoch, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the historian Margaret MacMillan, the Indian UN Ambassador Hardeep Singh Puri, and the head of Alcoa, Klaus Kleinfeld, at the table – me by Nancy's side, Helena with Henry. And Susan Rice, Obama's Ambassador to the UN, was present, even though this was the day the North Korean missile was fired and expired a minute into the air and the day a fragile ceasefire was settled in Syria.

Henry asked me to talk to the table and I told – with reference to Bloomberg and Murdoch's presences – an old story that Ed Koch had told me about Murdoch ringing him to endorse him for Mayor in 1978. Koch had told me, 'I was in my Greenwich Village apartment and a caller on the phone said he was Rupert. Rupert? I didn't know any Rupert. It is not a Jewish name. Then I recognised the accent. Oh ... Ruuuuupert! He asked if I would be embarrassed if his paper endorsed me. I said no.'

I praised Bloomberg to the skies – for insisting on calorie counts on menus in fast-food restaurants, for backing the supporters of a Muslim Centre near the World Towers, for city-based greenhouse initiatives. No response. Perhaps the old rule applied: you never flatter a healthy ego, the egoist sees it as the bald truth. But it doesn't matter: Bloomberg is a great public servant. I mentioned Australia's balancing act: China and the US – we don't have to choose. Told them the US was one budget deal away from reversing decline. They always warm to that. Americans love hearing that.

Henry said the Chinese bonding to North Korea goes back to the Korean War. I said China had put serious pressure on them this time round. I said this based on a cable reporting an exchange between Kim Beazley, our Ambassador to the US, and Kurt Campbell, Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, but Rice said their pressure had amounted to 'pretty please', nothing more. Later I cornered her and said I hadn't wanted to sound gullible about Beijing but my views reflected what our Ambassador had heard from Kurt Campbell, namely that this time China had been twice as strong as 2009 in pressuring the North Koreans. The last thing I wanted was for her to say somewhere the new Australian Foreign Minister was soft-headed on China, naïve about this latest threat.

'Bob, I don't believe you are naïve.'

Okay, fine, made that clear.

Margaret MacMillan is now writing a book on the causes of World War I (Henry, in introducing her, had said her book on Richard Nixon and China was ninety-six per cent accurate). She asked me what I thought had caused the breakdown of 1914. The Kaiser's hatred of his English mother, I said. That plus his withered arm. I said I hated the lies we were told at school about the war having neat, compartmentalised 'causes'. That it had 'economic causes'. Completely bogus.

After dinner, back to One Beekman Place to do radio interviews for Australia on Syria and North Korea. Combined with the glittering dinner this left me too upbeat to sink into the deep sleep I craved.

To sleep, perchance to dream.

FRIDAY, APRIL 13, 2012

New York

Started at 9 am, meeting Burundi Foreign Minister Laurent Kavakure in his mission's modest office, off one of the streets in the vicinity of the UN headquarters. We're funding one simple project in Burundi: edible mushrooms. And we think they will vote for us for the Security Council. Then a walk – thank God: air, light, sun, ambulation – in New York spring weather to buy protein powder at a GNC store ('My God, you're skinny,' Nancy Kissinger had said – blast! Seven years' weight training burnt off in the three-week adrenalin flow of the job) and I bought books at Argosy: a box set of Herzen's memoirs, a limited edition of D. H. Lawrence's Women in Love and a boxed limited edition of Irving Stone's The Agony and the Ecstasy (out of curiosity for how a popular novelist shapes the paltry material on the life of a genius, and out of a love for the look of this special edition). None of which I will read while I am Foreign Minister. Anyway, you own a book and absorb its contents by osmosis.

Then the car whisked us from the bookshop to Beekman Place for morning tea with ten Permanent Representatives of the Pacific states. We talked climate change, oceans, Arms Trade Treaty, the approaching Rio+20 conference that we will fund them to attend. I'm seized by this notion: Australia as the champion of the world's SIDS (Small Island Developing States). Then lunch with fifteen sub-Saharan African ambassadors. Kevin Rudd had visited the Organisation of African Unity and told them, 'We are Australia. We are not Europe, we are not America; we are Australia, and we look across the Indian Ocean to the African world.' I will repeat this. And repeat this. I use it at this lunch. Then afternoon tea with CARICOM, the fourteen Caribbean representatives whose votes we are confident of. They like Australia – like our position on climate change, marine environment, small arms treaty. Our diligent, infinitely patient UN Ambassador, Gary Quinlan, is fundamental to all of these relationships. He's a soft-footed, low-key, unthreatening omnipresence on Australia's behalf. It's the Permanent Representatives – the ambassadors to the UN – who do the voting and they can ignore their ministers' instructions. Gary cultivates the Permanent Representatives: he joined an ambassadors' cigar club; he joined a fraternity of Catholic ambassadors; he assuages, soothes, assures. I'm a professional politician – I live in a world of handshakes and ballots – and I haven't the patience to do what he has to.


Excerpted from Diary of a Foreign Minister by Bob Carr. Copyright © 2014 Bob Carr. Excerpted by permission of University of New South Wales Press Ltd.
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