Book Advisor: Bob Carr’s Diary of a Foreign Minister

Carr’s diary opens with a brief prelude in which he answers the call of destiny, accepting former PM Julia Gillard’s offer to replace the vanquished Foreign Minister and also former PM Kevin Rudd. By page one Carr’s infamous vanity and gluttony arise, comparing himself to one of the UK’s most lauded wartime leaders.

“Breakfast of croissants lathered with tangy French butter and bitter marmalade… Buoyed through the day with heavily watered whiskey and a pint of champagne in the Churchillian manner.”

Bob Carr

The cover of Bob Carr’s diaries.

While his internalised travel and dietary tantrums are certainly eye-opening, most probably played up, they’re also strangely compelling. For the next near 500 pages, what should be stodgy political stuff is actually a cracking page-turner with an international cast that includes best mates Marty Natalegawa, Indonesia’s Foreign Minister, Hillary Clinton (whom he’s convinced will be the next US President) and Henry Kissinger.

A pill-popping insomniac, Carr’s globe-hopping is simultaneously informative and also oddly fascinating, with a vivid eye for detail and a witty way with words. Something of a cultural playboy, it’s a wonder he had any time to work while devouring books, films and theatre.

The simmering Rudd challenge is the diary’s most page-turning aspect, as the inexorable comeback kid eventually topples the toppler. It’s clear that the former NSW Premier Carr harboured his own dreams of the top job, and that there were those around him who stoked that ambition. He’s less than forgiving when it comes to Gillard’s “selfish” refusal to leave.

“Oh to be Foreign Minister in a normal government, with a floor majority and an interesting, authoritative PM with a routine lead in the polls,” he laments, later adding, “When you’re ahead in the polls you don’t have to be grinding out messages every hour of the day. Especially if your voice antagonises people.”

Also fascinating is his despair at the botched media law changes and their surreal timing in the run up to a general election. “Gillard has not had a political success all year. The media package, and how it was adopted, has destroyed any confidence I could have in her office and instincts.”

Others come in for his scathing criticism, including the now Labor leader. “Media dwells on Bill Shorten, a delight for a hothouse ego.” Pot, kettle, and this memoir is immensely fun for that reason.

What others are saying:

The Australian says: “His diaries are full of substance and revelation, a high-octane internal dialogue on several key issues. Like all good political diaries, they are spiced with telling reflections on many colleagues. But there is also the characteristic Carr wit and, at times, self-deprecation.”

The Sydney Morning Herald says: “The former foreign minister’s view that Julia Gillard should have given up her carbon tax is extensively canvassed but one suspects throughout that he really would have preferred a carbohydrates tax.”

The Conversation says: “While I don’t doubt that Carr really is a vain and eccentric man, he is also capable of writing like a satirist, exposing the way power distorts self-perception and value.”

Buy Diary of a Foreign Minister from Booktopia here

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