Tuesday, 28 April 2015
9 April 2014 Bob Carr 'frustrated' by Israeli lobby and lack of First Class fares
In his first interview about his book on his time as Foreign Minister, Bob Carr says he was frustrated by the influence of the Israeli lobby and makes no apologies for his preference for First Class flights.
Source: 7.30 | Duration: 13min 4sec
SARAH FERGUSON, PRESENTER: Bob Carr was Australia's Foreign minister for just a year and a half, but the Labor heavyweight found enough material to write a 500-page book on his time in the job.
In The Diary of a Foreign Minister, Bob Carr details what he sees as some of the biggest problems in Australian politics.
He's singled out the Israeli lobby, saying its influence on Australian politics has reached an unhealthy level.
He also declares that former Prime Minister Julia Gillard was selfish for not standing down from the top job.
Like all good diaries, it mixes the lofty with the mundane - his desperation for first-class upgrades on international travel, what he ate for breakfast when he got there and where to buy the best tie.
To get the gossip and the geopolitics, I met up with Bob Carr earlier today in Sydney.
Bob Carr, welcome to 7.30.
BOB CARR, FORMER FOREIGN MINISTER: Pleasure to be with you.
SARAH FERGUSON: The Prime Minister arrives in China today, having announced closer Defence ties with Japan on the way. What sort of reception is Tony Abbott going to get from the Chinese?
BOB CARR: They have been satisfied that the Prime Minister's retreated from what he had said earlier, namely that Japan is an ally of Australia. That was important to them. It was a mistake to describe Japan as an ally and the Prime Minister has beaten a retreat from that and that's sensible. He should be given credit. The Chinese will write that off as the missteps of a new government. I think we've got to think carefully about an Australian prime minister turning up at a national security meeting of the Japanese cabinet. Now what message is that meant to convey? It is in Australia's interests to be strictly neutral when it comes to the territorial disputes in which China's involved and to urge both sides to peacefully resolve those disputes.
SARAH FERGUSON: Let's go to the book. The strongest criticism of all in the book is aimed at the Melbourne Jewish lobby. Now, there are lobby groups for every cause under the sun. What's wrong with the way that group operates?
BOB CARR: Well the important point about a diary of a Foreign minister is that you shine light on areas of government that are otherwise in darkness and the influence of lobby groups is one of those areas. And what I've done is to spell out how the extremely conservative instincts of the pro-Israel lobby in Melbourne was exercised through the then-Prime Minister's office. And I speak as someone who was in agreement with Julia Gillard's agenda on everything else. But I've got to say, on this one, I found it very frustrating that we couldn't issue, for example, a routine expression of concern about the spread of Israeli settlements on the West Bank. Great blocks of housing for Israeli citizens going up on land that everyone regards as part of a future Palestinian state, if there is to be a two-state solution resolving the standoff between Palestinians and Israelis in the Middle East.
SARAH FERGUSON: You're saying that the Melbourne Jewish lobby had a direct impact on foreign policy as it was operated from inside Julia Gillard's cabinet?
BOB CARR: Yeah, I would call it the Israeli lobby - I think that's important. But certainly they enjoyed extraordinary influence. I had to resist it 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.
SARAH FERGUSON: They're still a very small group of people. How do you account for them wielding so much power?
BOB CARR: I think party donations and a program of giving trips to MPs and journalists to Israel. But that's not to condemn them. I mean, other interest groups do the same thing. But it needs to be highlighted because I think it reached a very unhealthy level. 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, 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, from even making the most routine criticism of Israeli settlement policy using the kind of language that a Conservative Foreign secretary from the UK would use in a comparable statement at the same time.
SARAH FERGUSON: Now, in that period, you give a very frank account of cabinet discussions - the cabinet discussions about a vote on the status of Palestine in the UN. Now during those cabinet discussions, you effectively rolled Julia Gillard. Do you have any qualms about revealing the details of those cabinet discussions?
BOB CARR: Yeah, one would have to think seriously about that, and I did, but on balance, I think that the public's right to know how foreign policy is made, how cabinet works, outweighs any other considerations. And the value of a diary written so close to the events is that Australians get a better idea of how government works.
SARAH FERGUSON: You're candid about other world leaders, but to be fair, you're also fairly candid about yourself. In fact, you come over as a bit of an obsessive. Are you?
BOB CARR: Yeah, I am. Look, I've got to say, living on airline food and food at official banquets offended every rule of life I adhere to on this front. And in my first month of the job, my weight dropped by about a quarter of a stone - whatever that is in kilos. And it was such an inherently unhealthy lifestyle - living on planes, subsisting on that cuisine - I thought it would have knocked about two years off my life.
SARAH FERGUSON: You talk obsessively about food. You also complain about which class you're flying in airlines. Are you a prima donna?
BOB CARR: Um, I remember once flying from Sydney to the Gulf, to Dubai, and then with an hour's break, on to Cairo, and having to have a meeting with President Morsi, with the Foreign Minister, with the Secretary-General of the Arab League, and I got to tell you, Sarah, having been upgraded to first-class was a great advantage. I make no apologies whatsoever for wanting to arrive on these missions for Australia in the best condition possible.
SARAH FERGUSON: People are going to make a lot out of those remarks though, aren't they?
BOB CARR: Faced with a choice, having to get off a plane and go straight to a meeting with the French Foreign Minister in Paris, I tell you what, I'd prefer first-class any time.
SARAH FERGUSON: Let's just go back to some of the big foreign policy issues that you talk about throughout the book. You're very critical of US wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. We've just had elections in Afghanistan, quite successful ones with a high turnout, despite a very sustained campaign by the Taliban in the lead up. You said this: "After 12 years of war, it's been a waste. Huge armies mobilise the largest coalition in history for nothing." Is that view too bleak, do you think?
BOB CARR: One very candid Australian said to me, "If I'd been given a few buckets of money, I could have gone up there to Uruzgan Province and achieved everything we achieved by military endeavour with bribes of local chieftains." That might be too brutal and he might have spoken with exaggeration for effect, but I suspect there's an element of truth.
SARAH FERGUSON: On Iraq, again, hugely critical of that war, you say that Donald Rumsfeld amongst others should be put on trial. Are you seriously talking about a war crimes trial for US officials?
BOB CARR: No, that's a rhetorical point. But I cannot believe the suffering, the dislocation. Four million refugees, for example, a cost of trillions to the US, a weakened US, strengthened enemies of America, like Al-Qaeda in Iraq, as a result of this flight of fancy that took America into that war, with Australia shamefully at its side, yelping like a pet poodle.
SARAH FERGUSON: You replaced the Mandarin-speaking diplomat Kevin Rudd as Foreign Minister. Was he a good Foreign minister?
BOB CARR: I believe Kevin Rudd was good. I noticed with some amusement people who had tough experiences with him, including a Japanese deputy prime minister who was almost crouching in his chair during my meeting with him. I asked our ambassador later why even by Japanese standards there was this reserve or shyness and he said that when he was last in Australia meeting an Australian Foreign minister, he'd been really taken to task by Kevin on the issue of whaling. I thought that was a comment on Kevin's forcefulness.
SARAH FERGUSON: Now, your period as Foreign minister was set against terrible, uniquely awful in-fighting in the party. What was it about Julia Gillard's leadership in the end that finally convinced you to switch support to Kevin Rudd?
BOB CARR: We all wanted Julia to work. But by the time we decided, in our wisdom as a cabinet, to go to war with the newspapers, I thought, "The very viability of social democracy in Australia of a viable Australian Labor Party is now at stake." So with some reluctance and with respect for her, but real doubts about her political judgment, I moved into the Rudd camp.
SARAH FERGUSON: You're also scathing about her voice. Was that really important?
BOB CARR: No, no. I said - I made gentle humour and she was comfortable with it from time to time. I think I made gentle humour once or twice about what she'd joke about: her distinctive, broad Australian accent.
SARAH FERGUSON: But actually you do think those things are important. You - and I'm not being superficial about the ties - you think how you look is important, you talk about your own voice. Did you think that her voice and the way she communicated was a big part of the problem?
BOB CARR: I thought a lot of the time she was very good. And I couldn't understand the level of hostility that she ended up attracting, but you couldn't ignore that. Minority status diminishes any government and then a campaign by Rudd to get back. Jacobean revenge drama, knives flashing, blood flowing, and for all of us in the Labor Party, it's a relief to get beyond it. I wish both of them well.
SARAH FERGUSON: You also said she was selfish - just to stay with her for a moment - not to hand over the leadership. That was - that's a pretty subjective judgment. She was still the elected leader.
BOB CARR: Yeah, that was at the last moment; that was before the final leadership challenge and I thought - I thought, "If someone had presented me with figures, polling figures about state government in NSW that said, "You're now a significant barrier to the Government's re-election," I would have said, "Look, fine. Fine. I've done my best. It ain't working. I'll pull out, and, apart from anything else, I won't be the one indicted with the responsibility on the Sunday after election."
SARAH FERGUSON: There's a rueful tone when you talk about your own - the chance that you may have had to be leader yourself. How much do you regret having not seized those opportunities?
BOB CARR: I don't regret it. I think it was very difficult times. But as - I think they were very difficult times for anyone. But as someone who headed a state government, I naturally found myself thinking that if I'd been Prime Minister, for example, we would have gone straight to a carbon trading scheme and not lingered with the set price, the tax. We wouldn't have retreated from John Howard's offshore processing, or if we had, we would have returned to something like it pretty quickly. That fight with the newspapers. By my fiscal conservatism, a too-grand recovery package. But on the other hand, I got to say, the Rudd Government saved the country from the GFC and rebuilt the school system of the country. Now they're proud Labor achievements. I my conservative instincts might have been wrong.
SARAH FERGUSON: One very specific question for you is for the leader of this state. We're now witnessing the twin horror shows of ICAC going again to Eddie Obeid and a Royal commission into union corruption starting today. What is it about the ALP in NSW that allows people like Eddie Obeid and union officials, corrupt ones, to flourish?
BOB CARR: Yeah, I think the NSW party, once a grand political force, has got to have a real debate about this.
SARAH FERGUSON: What does that mean, a debate? It's more like cleaning out the Augean stables, isn't it?
BOB CARR: That goes without saying, but Obeid's entree was based on a mix of fundraising and mateship ethos gone to seed. I'm not saying it was a proud episode in Labor's history and the stables have got to be hosed out with one of those industrial standard fire hoses and that's a big challenge.
SARAH FERGUSON: Do you think that Australians will forgive you for presenting yourself as a dandy who thinks a lot about which tie he's going to wear?
BOB CARR: Yeah, I think self-parody and irony is the stuff of life and I wanted the book to have that flavour. The flavour's - the flavour's me.
SARAH FERGUSON: It's irony.
BOB CARR: And fun, a sense of fun. Life is too short to be taken seriously.
SARAH FERGUSON: Bob Carr, thank you very much for joining us.
BOB CARR: Thank you.
Posted by Geoff Seidner at 11:53 am