Saturday, March 03, 2012

Saturday Morning Musings - the Carr affair

The out-again, in-again appointment of formed NSW Premier Bob Carr as Australian Foreign Minister came as a bit of surprise. Media interpretation in this country presents the appointment as the PM asserting her authority.

  I have only met Mr Carr once, at a family function. I found him a charming, clever and articulate man. He is also a fellow blogger. All that said, I don't share some of the positive interpretations about Mr Carr.

The Wikipedia entry on Mr Carr presents his period as Premier of NSW as a very considerable success. I have a very different view, for it was during Mr Carr's rule that what is now called the NSW disease took deep root. By the end of his period, the signs of infection were clear.

To fully justify this assertion, I would need to undertake a forensic analysis of the Carr period. I have neither the time nor energy to do this just at present. Instead, I want to make a few, brief, assertions.

As Premier, Mr Carr failed to articulate any form of clear direction for NSW. I have argued that this is quite hard, for NSW is now in some ways ungovernable as an entity because it lacks any form of geographic coherence. Nevertheless, as Premier you at least have to try.

Lacking any form of unifying world view that might provide coherence, Mr Carr drifted into an approach that centred on what we might call "popular" issues. This was the period that spin, the grab for an immediate response on an issue that seemed popular, became entrenched.

Mr Carr is very much a member of what we might call the Sydney soft left intellectual elite. I do not mean this in pejorative terms,  although it will be clear from my own writing that I do not share those views. I am simply making a classification based upon expressed views independent of formal ALP factional considerations.

The causes that he espoused, the responses that he made, seemed to combine popular soft left causes with a populist streak that continued the NSW preoccupation with issues such as law and order: create a new national park here, build a police station there, ban this activity on environmental grounds, promote this social cause. By the end of his period, Mr Carr seemed clearly bored with the trivia and detail that inevitably goes with being a state premier.

None of this stops Mr Carr from being a very good foreign minister, although I have some reservations in that he will need to discipline his ideas and interests to do the job properly.

They are not strong reservations because of the way that the portfolio seems to impose its own disciplines upon incumbents. Along with the Treasury portfolio where a similar process happens, our Foreign Ministers seem to grow into the job. It is many years since Australia has had a "bad" foreign minister.

My real concern with Mr Carr lies in a different direction. If the opinion polls continue badly for the Government, Ms Gillard has brought into the leadership team someone who might be, in popular terms, a credible alternative to her. Now that would worry me.

I am not suggesting that Mr Carr has this possibility in mind himself. From the little I know of the man, his interest in foreign policy is long standing, his interest in becoming PM low. The leadership baton that is meant to reside in each politician's backpack has been left at home, gathering dust behind the bedroom door. And yet, political events have their own dynamics.

So there it is. Carr as foreign minister, okay. Carr as PM, shudder!


It's been interesting watching the reactions to Mr Carr's appointment. This piece by Shaun Carney makes some of the points I made re Mr Carr's NSW role.

I don't know about the "strong" Gillard point. At the very least, Mr Carr's media links and position within the ALP make for a useful corrective to the media coverage previously attracted by Mr Rudd. In a way, the media coverage has somewhat submerged, perhaps substituted is a better word, the previous coverage.  


Legal Eagle said...

Hmmm, interesting thoughts, Jim. I just don't know what to make of the whole thing altogether. I'm bemused.

As a non-NSWelsher, Carr looked like a good Premier to me from a distance, but then things went really rotten in NSW when he left.

I agree with you: I think he has absolutely no interest in the Prime Ministership. But it's all just so odd and ad hoc - yes he was offered the job, no he wasn't, yes he has the job. It just doesn't fill one with confidence.

Jim Belshaw said...

Bemused is a good word, LE. There is something strangely random in it all!

Evan said...

Hi Jim, I have the same reservations as you about the Carr premiership. I think he practised governance as perception management.

His (successful) formula seemed to be to get right wing votes via tough on crime and left wing by opening national parks etc. He seemed to lose interest once he figured out the formula.

It is interesting that we agree as I fall into a group that would be labelled as so far left as to have fallen off the twig.

Jim Belshaw said...

Interesting that we agree, Evan!