Mr Carr Goes to Washington… and Barnaby

I should like Bob Carr. He possesses a great intellect and is able to absorb ideas that are beyond almost all of Australia’s politicians, with perhaps Malcolm Turnbull and Kevin Rudd being his equal. I should like him because he has the even less patience than I do with old style “nostalgic left Trots” firing up abuse and aggression at rallies. Yet when he was the NSW Premier for 10 years, I never liked him.

It’s probably because he never really seemed to have his heart in the job. When I started following politics in earnest as a teenager (and keen Nick Greiner fan – yes, I know), it also appeared that Carr’s criticisms just droned on and he wasn’t really that engaged. That’s why I, like a lot of people, was startled when Mr. Negative, in 1991, almost defeated a first term government, causing, in time, a minority government involving Tony Windsor. It turned out that Carr never particularly wanted to be a state politician – it seemed to be federal politics and specifically Foreign Affairs that entranced him. Thus said his diary of the time:

I spent today like a doomed man, taking phone calls and drafting a statement, still saying to the press I wasn’t shifting. I feel a jolt in my stomach about what I’m getting myself in for. I will destroy my career in four years. Everything’s altered. It’s my fate … So, for better or for worse, I become leader of the party next week.

Looking back, the question would be there – Why would a person with the intellect of Carr want to be the Premier of a state where Joe Tripodi, Eddie Obeid and Michael Costa lurked inside the government. It was a tough time for a government that was attempting to undertake a range of social, legal, educational and environmental reforms as well as deal with the increasing difficulties infrastructure funding and maintenance threw at the government. It is the latter with which Carr has attracted the most criticism – with little improvement to show for his years as Premier. There’s the 4 lane M5 East, the non-existent M4 East, one (half) additional train line, train carriages that arrived over budget and beyond deadline, a ticketing system many years behind Melbourne’s. The Carr Premiership also heralded the increase in poker machines and the continuing grubby association with the Australian Hotels Association. There was, however, a major benefit of the Carr years for areas of Sydney, with Campbelltown and Liverpool receiving much improved cultural facilities, and a corker of an idea – opening the doors of every Sydney museum for a night – all as a result of Carr’s own liking for culture. Again, another reason I should like Carr. But I find myself disagreeing with most of his views on culture. It’s probably the same reason I never took a liking for Kevin Rudd. They both show an overbearing Smugness and in Carr’s case, an apparent disinterest in built up areas outside the inner city of Sydney. Though, that impression has possibly been left with me because when he opened my local primary school hall, he called it “Riverview” instead of “Mt. Riverview”.

That is the past, however.  Time seems to have been kind to Carr, especially as he parachuted out of the NSW Government before things got really toxic – ie. when Costa became Treasurer and then the revolving door of leaders. Looking at Carr today, he seems like a renewed man, ready to take on the challenges of being our Foreign Minister – even if it’s only for 18 months or so. Oh, and being a Senator. In the same chamber as Barnaby Joyce, Mary Jo Fisher and Cory Bernardi. I think a lot of people would pay admission to see a debate between Barnaby and Bob, if only to see the looks on Joyce’s face as he sees his Riverview education unravelling when the public school boy swat delivers one of his historical references or famed putdowns. It would be interesting to read any response his new opposite number, Julie Bishop, would make to this article by Carr about the future faced by social democrat parties, or indeed most inside his own new party group. What should also fascinate Senate watchers is Carr’s relationship with the other tall NSW born Bob in the chamber. Carr has been fairly constant in his criticisms of the Greens in his blogging activities – I can imagine that he may show some modification in that attitude – in public at least.

There is also a question as to what the newly elected Senator Carr would do during a Coalition government. I can’t imagine him wanting to go anywhere, especially when he would get an opportunity to challenge the new Coalition Ministers in the Senate. Especially the aforementioned Barnaby. I can also imagine him staying there until his dotage – which is what he suggested yesterday:

”I’ll aim to become the Australian equivalent of Robert Byrd, or one of those ancient US senators who just stay on there into their 90s, dispensing their wisdom and speaking with more principle as each year passes.”

It’s a good move by Gillard to find a specialist in the area of Foreign Affairs whose addition will add some gravitas and experience, rather than capability and the desire for compromise, as well as constant presence in the back bench, which were elements Warren Mundine, the more usual style of replacement, would have taken to Canberra. It has also made it easier for Gillard to maintain the same balance in the senior ministry, with no major changes amongst her current cabinet members. Though, on a side note, it is a curious move placing David Bradbury as Assistant Treasurer – a role that will lure him away from Lindsay even more than his current position. Lindsay still is a seat where people want to see the local MP.

It’s also been interesting and instructive to see the press gallery’s egg on their prognosticating faces. There was Michelle Grattan, who first tool an opportunity to put her boot into Gillard about her failure to appoint Carr having to eat her words (well, as close to it as a senior Canberra press gallery journalist will). She did, though, take the opportunity to take another kick at Gillard for having less “panache” than Carr – making politics look like Canberra’s Next Top Model. Simon Benson also took a break from his relentless criticism of every single thing Gillard does by praising Carr’s appointment, but then going back to his crude kicking at a government, which is in his opinion, is “hopelessly lacking in authority”. Benson and the Daily Telegraph seemed to have given up on writing the Rudd is Challenging as Leader narrative, deciding that Carr is the new Challenger. This is why Benson writes that “the question is already being asked whether he [Carr] could be a potential prime ministerial candidate”. Not sure who is speculating in society about that – but Benson is right, in terms of there being speculation. That speculation comes from Simon’s very own paper, printing an article by him and Patrick Lion which can’t fail to throw in a “bungle” at the top.

It would be more likely to see me going to a Wagner opera with Bob Carr, David Marr and Andrew Bolt than it would be for Bob Carr to cope with the dangerous labyrinth that faces anyone wanting to be the leader of the ALP and then Prime Minister. Carr’s talents lean more towards philosophy and diplomacy with fellow intellects than trying to reconcile all the competing demands from a range of ministers and lobby groups. Besides, there would be too much baggage from the latter years of his NSW reign. Plus, I can’t see him holding his patience as well as Gillard manages in the face of the stupid thrown at a Labor leader by particular journalists.

Julia Gillard has given us interesting times and this appointment has been no exception. Besides, there are probably a great number of people in NSW who would sing in one voice that getting Bob Carr out of Australia as often as possible is a good thing. Personally, it means that I can brush up my own Bob Carr impersonation.

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