In the frontline of the war against boredom

International relations Ministerial portfolios Australia

Andrew Dodd reviews Bob Carr’s absorbing and occasionally disturbing account of eighteen months as foreign minister

BOB CARR is touring St Petersburg on his last day as Australia’s foreign minister. There’s a six-hour time difference between Sydney and this part of Russia so he’s enjoying the sunshine while Labor is assessing the size of its loss on the night of the 2013 federal election. It’s the first national election he’s missed since 1963, but as prime minister Kevin Rudd’s delegate at the G20 meeting he finds himself outside the Lenin Museum receiving texts from parliamentary colleagues back home.

First there’s news that Labor’s Matt Thistlethwaite is holding Peter Garrett’s seat of Kingsford Smith. Carr enters the museum to hear that Michelle Rowland is winning in the seat of Greenway. He’s near the room where the Communist Party official Sergei Kirov was assassinated and learns that Jason Clare, Tony Burke and Chris Bowen have all been returned.

It’s a rich juxtaposition that draws on Carr’s love of Russian history and literature, as well as his own past as a self-described “anti-Leninist” in Labor’s NSW Right. He never guessed he’d be in Russia at this moment, but in another sense this is exactly how he expected his term as Australia’s foreign minister would end. Not even those momentarily euphoric polls after Rudd’s return to the prime ministership had deluded him that he would get more than eighteen months in the job he had coveted all his adult life. It’s a moment tinged with personal pathos, as he contemplates the life of ordinariness before him. No more tête-à-têtes with world leaders. No more of the beloved diplomatic dispatches full of international gossip to read and savour each day. No more soaring above the mundane…

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