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Bob Carr has detailed Kevin Rudd’s reputation for explosive outbursts among the world’s foreign policy elite and the widespread dislike of him in the Labor Party, in an extraordinary inside account of his time as foreign minister in a crumbling Labor government.
Mr Carr’s Diary of a Foreign Minister also reveals how he told Mr Rudd’s prime ministerial rival, Julia Gillard, to step down from the leadership to save her own reputation.
“The motivation can only be a deeply ingrained detestation of Rudd,” Mr Carr writes of her refusal to do so. “At once understandable … and unworthy.”
A rich and rare account of his 18 months as foreign minister in 2012-13, Mr Carr’s Diary records the work behind diplomatic triumphs, the high level discussions with global figures, and frank observations on Labor’s internal ructions.
The former NSW Premier and Labor elder also:
- Reveals how he rolled Ms Gillard on a UN vote on Palestinian recognition, publishing private text messages between himself and the former prime minister to reveal the “extraordinary” level of influence the pro-Israel lobby had on her office.
- Details his early call for Labor to match Tony Abbott's border protection policies, and a last ditch - and unsuccessful - bid to get Indonesia to accept failed Iranian asylum seekers, who would have been flown back to Jakarta by Australia.
- Reflects on the rise of China, and mis-steps by the US and its allies in handling its emergence.
- Regales readers with his exercise and diet habits; his dinners and retreats with Henry Kissinger; as well as his gripes about business class travel and the lack of subtitling of an inflight telecast of a Wagnerian opera.
Throughout Mr Carr’s encounters as a foreign minister, the subject of Mr Rudd, and Mr Rudd’s possible return to the top job, regularly surfaces, including when he catches up with China’s foreign minister Wang Yi.
China's senior envoy observes: “You know, in China … some people love him ...and some people … hate him!”
Mr Carr writes: “I told him I understood that to be true.”
The Commonwealth’s assistant general secretary Stephen Cutts tells Mr Carr how Mr Rudd “savaged” him.
The Japanese recall his belligerent language on whaling while Singapore’s foreign minister recounts how he was “lectured” by Mr Rudd over East Timor’s entry into the ASEAN group of countries.
Mr Carr also details a conversation where Julia Gillard tells him of Mr Rudd’s hitherto secret Israel-Palestine peace plan drafted in the wake of the Arab Spring uprising.
“As foreign minister, Kevin had kept going to Israel, driving [Israel’s leader Benyamin] Netanyahu mad promoting a batty peace plan and promising to commit Australian troops to patrolling borders.
“I quickly agree this was nuts.”
Mr Carr writes vividly of when Mr Rudd pops into his parliamentary office in October 2012.
“And then a visitor arrives in my office with the air of a conspiring cardinal on coasters, sniffing out useful heresy: our beloved former prime minister Kevin Rudd, purse-lipped, choirboy hair, speaking in that sinister monotone. A chilling monotone.” [Mr Carr’s italics]
Nevertheless, Mr Carr eventually backed Mr Rudd’s return, seeing it as the only way to avoid an election obliteration.
When then treasurer Wayne Swan is canvassing support for Ms Gillard on June 11 last year, 15 days before Ms Gillard was vanquished, Mr Carr tells him: “Just let Rudd take over.”
Mr Swan’s response, Mr Carr recalls, is “it would be handing the party over to a madman”.
“‘Forget that,’ I said. ‘The party should be left in some condition to fight back at the election after this’.”
By June 19, Sam Dastyari is telling Mr Carr that Bill Shorten has switched to the Rudd camp. Mr Shorten, now opposition leader, publicly declared support for Ms Gillard right up until hours before she got knifed.
On June 26, Mr Carr talks direct to Ms Gillard. “What I say is unrehearsed and untested and has not been sought by anyone in the Rudd camp,” he writes.
“I say ‘I’m happy to accept everything you want to say about Kevin ... but let’s talk about it from your perspective ... you want to face the Sunday after the election like Kristina Keneally or Anna Bligh?....
“On the other hand you can give a speech today that will produce a surge of goodwill … you could be sitting in your former prime minister’s office in a few months taking calls offering you a job of vice chancellor or chancellor, positions on boards … you’d get a phone call from the UN given the positive impact you made with your speech of last year."
Ms Gillard replies she cannot go because the leadership battle has nothing to with policy or party principle. That afternoon, she was toppled by Mr Rudd.
There is praise from Mr Carr for the new prime minister.
Mr Rudd's PNG Solution asylum seeker policy was a “masterstroke” and Mr Rudd's command of those first cabinet meetings described as impressive.
At one point, as the early poll numbers come in, Sam Dastyari rings to say he believes Mr Rudd can win.
But Mr Rudd is a “tone-deaf campaigner”. The rushed, two-page policy to offer low tax rates to investors in the Northern Territory was a shambles.
Mr Carr observes witheringly: “Is this the best 18 months' reflection on the backbench could produce?”
Less than a fortnight before Mr Rudd’s loss in the election, the two men meet in Canberra, drink tea and acknowledge Labor has no hope of being returned.
Mr Rudd laments on how so few hold power in Australia.
“[Mr Rudd] reflects on how few people run the country: the Murdoch media, the heads of Rio and BHP, probably the heads of the big banks, and ‘that mob’, by which he means the hard-line… pro-Israel lobby in Melbourne.”
Mr Carr calls it Mr Rudd’s Richard II moment: ‘‘Let us sit upon the ground and tell sad stories of the deaths of kings.’'
The story Bob Carr's Diary takes aim at Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd for mistakes first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.