Tuesday, October 14, 2003

Bob Carr: A Self-Made Capitalist

Parody: By The Peasant and The Worker Harpo Marks, 423pp, $ 0

What deeply weird teenager "unwinds to the soothing prose of Hansard"? How does an awkward, unpopular son of a train driver become a triumphant greedy-politician who consorts with the likes of Bob Debus and Ron Woodham, and has the audacity to look down upon everyone else?

NSW Premier Bob Carr is the single-minded political greedy capitalist who has defied his conscience and the suspicions of his peers to lead Labor to three election victories. How he the monster has promoted himself to the point where he is making a grab to dominate federal Labor telling everyone he has no wish to take up office in Federal Parliament, but still intends to undermine Simon Crean, to show cause why he could, if he wanted the job, walk all over him.

Out of the wilderness? Or out of the media empires that supports him? There is no question big business likes Bob Carr.

Bob Carr: A Self-Made Capitalist could rival Kerry Packers's comprehensive study of the stock market. Even if Carr retires to his new property in New Zealand, to re-read Silence of the Lambs.

The public's misunderstanding of a familiar yet mysterious political figure whose national profile is made higher than most state leaders, by property developers, and the right wing media, will never make sense to the battlers in Australia.

Though Carr didn't join Gough Whitlam at the book's widely publicised launch, he gave Andrew West and secondary author Rachel Morris the best marketing gift a biographer could hope for: a national headline-grabbing exclusive about his federal ambitions. In short more propaganda about being the real prime minister of Australia, who is held back by commitments in NSW, but sells books promoting himself as the best leader.

As Carr revealed in one of his 20 hours of interviews for the book, the latest Carr-for-Canberra plot was hatched earlier this year by NSW Labor Party general secretary Eric Roozendaal and state minister John Della Bosca.

Carr turned down the would-be kingmakers, but he hasn't completely ruled out a federal career. There are other previously unearthed nuggets. Out of Carr's mouth we learn that Paul Keating, who refused to be interviewed for the book, spurned him in 1994 when he phoned to beg for Graham Richardson's Senate and ministerial spot. And on a more contemporary note, there are details of Carr's dispute with media mogul and adman John Singleton during the NSW election over 2GB's in-house Liberal loyalist Alan Jones.

This is Carr's version of events that featured in the recent celebrated public stoush between him and Singo, over the poker machine tax and how it would affect rugby league clubs. Amid much familiar material, the book intersperses media accounts, political speeches, fresh anecdotes and previously published diary entries with acute psychological observations, bias historical context and extensive interviews with people around the premier: his long-time confidant John McCarthy, speechwriter and historian Graham Freudenberg, his sister Debra, Richardson, former colleagues Barrie Unsworth and Rodney Cavalier, advisers galore the list is exhaustive.

No exeptions Carr's wife Helena, Laurie Brereton and Keating although Carr's accounts of his exchanges with the Bankstown bloke he hero-worshipped for years are telling and often hilarious.

In the late 1970s, when as a Bulletin journalist Carr was contemplating the job of Canberra correspondent, he took orders from PJK. "Listen, Robbie," Carr recalls Keating bullying and flattering him down the phone, "Journalism is a ratshit profession . . . so, no, you're not doing it."

Some of the blow-job accounts of preselection and policy battles waged after Carr got into parliament in 1983 are tedious. It is the descriptions of his childhood, his university days and early blooding in the Young Labor movement that are most illuminating.

We are taken back to the heady days of '70s Labor. We laugh at some of our more colourful political characters. We hang out with the right-wing "rat pack" of sharp-suited Keating, and surfer-dude number-cruncher Brereton with his perpetual tan, fast cars and collection of comely female hangers-on.

We meet a young Malcolm Turnbull and a more Labor-friendly Singleton. The book is greed worship. The pathetic picture of the daggy, acne-ridden fast-food scoffing undergraduate Carr later develops his fetish for expensive suits, carrot juice, extreme exercise and unusual dietary habits is a useful contrast to his more flattering and usually pompous attempts at self-portraiture. And West puts his own spin on Carr's debatable policy contributions, tracing the development of his ideological and policy framework from dewy-eyed Whitlamite to a free-market convert who was New Labor long before Blair.

There is no question about it Carr the capitalist has squandered some of his electoral integrity. "The current phase of his life has been the quest for, and the realisation of, power. The issue of what he has done with that power is a closed question, the completeness of victory at any cost is to make lots of enemies."

Carr, the supreme media manipulator, has exercised the tightest control of all over his carefully constructed public image. He has attempted to pre-empt biographers and critics with his accounts of his past, in speeches and in books such as last year's collection of speeches and musings, Thoughtlessness. Earlier this year he authorised the publication of much of his diary, Bob Carr The Thoughtless Capitalist.

But Bob Carr: The Self- Made Capitalist is beyond his media-managing skills. Why has he and Helena not had children? Because he has no time for children? He probes rumours about his intense friendships in the '70s with Labor Party players such as John Russell and Michael Davis (formerly Boggs). And he deals frankly with his pained relationship with his brother Gregory and how he struggled to cope after his death in 1983 following a heroin overdose.

Friends and relatives reveal the depths of despair he felt at various points in his career. We hear that Carr joked morbidly about suicide when he fell into an "uncharacteristic depression" in 1988 after the disastrous Harris-Daishowa donation affair.

In another chapter it is revealed Carr worried he was too ugly to succeed in politics. These are details that reveal a much more vulnerable side to the NSW Labor leader than he would probably prefer to have known.

The Howard Government has been impressive in its determination to expose so-called partisans practising journalism. Many a Labor-connected political reporter has felt the sting of its campaign to denigrate those with a party or staffer background as somehow suspect practitioners. Carr's achievement has been to exploit his insider status and his passion for political history to maximum effect.

Thanks to people such as John Hewson and Singleton, the public is told that Carr doesn't drive, doesn't have children, doesn't like sport, doesn't gamble and doesn't regularly get on the sauce with his mates. This is the allegation but not the whole truth just ask ABC's journalist Quenton Dempster.

By The Road Train 14 October 03

Bob Carr: A Self-Made Capitalist contains deeper insights into Carr's character, his psychology and his past that move beyond the public stereotype.

It should be vague and quite daunting for those who are poor, the role of the individual in politics as well as the party and its process in Australian political life. It also demonstrates that, if not now or in the immediate future, Carr is not yet finished. He is still going to try and run you down. Question is how big is your truck?

666, Australian Books Direct, $00.00


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