Little diplomacy in former Australian foreign minister Bob Carr’s memoir

Humility in short supply in Australian politician's account of his time rubbing shoulders with the world's power brokers

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 10 April, 2014, 8:46pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 10 April, 2014, 8:54pm


Former Australian foreign minister Bob Carr has defended his new book in which he savages colleagues, speculates whether US peers have had plastic surgery and derides business-class travel as inspired by the slave trade.

Carr, who spent just 18 months in the job until the Labor government was ousted last September, also writes that China seemed to see Australia as "only slightly more important than New Zealand" and wished Canberra was "a little less craven" towards the United States.

Business class. No edible food. No airline pyjamas. I lie in my tailored suit

"I am foreign minister... I soar above the mundane and serve my country," he writes in Diary of a Foreign Minister, a book he admits is heavy on self-parody.

The former premier of New South Wales also describes himself, after complaining of tortuous meetings, as "the best chairman I know" and as having "more energy that 16 gladiators".

Seated next to Russian leader Vladimir Putin and across from US President Barack Obama, Carr recalls the words of late author Gore Vidal: "I cannot feel humble. Interested, curious, of course. Just not humble."

The yet-to-be-released book has been criticised by current Foreign Minister Julie Bishop for "breaching confidences".

But Carr said Australians had a right to know how democracy worked on a day-to-day basis.

"I make no apologies for providing people with a darn good story about how Australian foreign policy is made, about pressures on a foreign minister, about how the whole thing works," he said yesterday.

Carr said he used judgment when discussing national security issues in the book, profits from which will go to charity.

"I gotta tell you I was briefed on a few big slumbering secrets … they are national security concerns, they didn't go in the book," he added. "But there are a lot of insights into how the political process works and I think Australian democracy is going to be better because someone has explained this."

Carr, who was appointed to fill a Senate vacancy by then Labor prime minister Julia Gillard in order to have him become the nation's top diplomat, is candid about his colleagues, notably describing Gillard as selfish for holding onto the leadership when her polling was dismal.

On US politicians, he writes that John McCain was "younger and more sparkle-eyed than I might have expected. Plastic surgery? Two days earlier I noticed something about the skin under John Kerry's eyes, smooth and slightly discoloured".

It also outlines the lean Carr's obsession with diet and fitness, including an insistence on eating protein and banning sugar, and complains about airline meals - earning him the title "Bob the snob" in the tabloid press.

"Business class. No edible food. No airline pyjamas. I lie in my tailored suit," he writes in one entry.

After receiving an upgrade to first class he notes: "Pathetic that the public service rules reduce me to that, an upgrade for a middle-power foreign minister." On another flight passengers were "lying in cribs, packed in business class, a design that owes a lot to the trans-Atlantic slave trade".

Speaking to the ABC, Carr said an Australian foreign minister lived an "inherently unhealthy lifestyle" and he thought the job had taken two years off his life.

"Living on airline food and food at official banquets offended every rule of life I adhere to on that front," he said.

But he also admitted the book indulges his love of self-mockery and irony, noting: "Life is too short to be taken seriously."