Bob Carr, Australia’s departing minister of foreign affairs, was one of the few ministers in the Gillard government who seemed to be enjoying himself.
In November 1984, just a year after he was elected to the New South Wales parliament, he confided in his diary that “the ultimate taste of politics” would be to serve as minister for foreign affairs in a Labor government. It explains why Senator Carr relished the job as foreign minister, even though he held the post for only 18 months.
He had also long coveted a seat on the red leather benches of the Senate, putting his name forward on at least four previous occasions. Voters have every right to be disappointed that Senator Carr has quit before his new six-year term commences next July. Yet as he recently argued, parties should use casual vacancies to attract into politics people with experience.
The Australian newspaper welcomed his appointment to the Senate. We suggested Labor and the Coalition look to other former premiers, in addition to leaders in fields outside politics, to bolster their parliamentary ranks. It is disappointing to see that NSW Labor is set to hand the Senate vacancy to Deborah O’Neill, a one-term MP who lost her NSW central coast seat of Robertson at the election. The party has not taken his parting advice.
Nor does it seem the Gillard government heeded much of his advice, despite decades of political experience.
On policy, we sometimes differed with Senator Carr, particularly on his decision to mount a backroom political revolt against Julia Gillard on Palestine’s status at the United Nations. But we acknowledge that Australia won a U.N. Security Council seat on his watch, that the drawdown of troops in Afghanistan was handled well and that key bilateral relationships were generally strong.
But it is Senator Carr’s political acumen and his ability to tell a story, albeit often directed at Labor’s self-interest, which the party will miss most.