News State NSW News Bob Carr: career politician steps down after 30 years of service

Bob Carr: career politician steps down after 30 years of service

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Bob Carr has announced his resignation from federal politics, 30 years and one day after entering the political fray.

Born Robert John Carr in the Sydney suburb of Matraville on September 28, 1947, he showed an early interest in politics.

He first became involved in politics through New South Wales Young Labor, where he became a close associate of former prime minister Paul Keating and former federal Labor MP Laurie Brereton.

To this day, the story persists that the three made a youthful pact, that Mr Keating would one day be prime minister, Mr Brereton NSW premier and Mr Carr the nation’s foreign minister.

While always denied, the subsequent careers of all three suggests it may have reflected their respective youthful ambitions.

After early attempts to join the Senate were rebuffed, Mr Carr worked as a journalist for the ABC and The Bulletin and a spent a period working for the NSW Labor Council.

He was president of the ALP Kingsford-Smith Federal Electoral Council from 1970 to 1988.

During this time Mr Carr was also president of NSW Young Labor between 1970 and 1973, and president of Australian Young Labor from 1972 to 1973.

He officially entered politics in 1983, when he was elected to the New South Wales Legislative Assembly for Maroubra in a by-election on October 22, 1983.

Carr becomes Labor leader

He joined the ministry, taking on various portfolios, and within five years Mr Carr assumed the leadership of the NSW Labor Party, after former leader and premier Barrie Unsworth lost the 1988 election in a landslide.

Mr Carr – whose apparent long-term ambition was federal politics and in particular the foreign affairs portfolio – reluctantly took on the leadership, following pressure from his right faction and the party organisation for him to stand against Mr Brereton.

Diary entries from the time reveal his internal struggle.

“I spent today like a doomed man, taking phone calls and drafting a statement, still saying to the press I wasn’t shifting,” one entry reads.

“I feel a jolt in my stomach about what I’m getting myself in for. I will destroy my career in four years. Everything’s altered. It’s my fate … so, for better or for worse, I become leader of the party next week.”

Despite his misgivings, Mr Carr threw himself into the role of opposition leader and despite polls suggesting Labor was headed for another heavy defeat in 1991, they fell just four seats short of retaking government.

The result forced premier Nick Greiner to form a minority government with the support of independents.

Labor wins government and Carr becomes premier

In 1995, Mr Carr again ran a focused campaign and Labor won government with a one-seat majority.

Labor secured a 7 per cent swing at the 1999 election and was re-elected almost as easily in 2003, despite most federal NSW seats being held by the Coalition.

The centrist Carr government was characterised by conservative fiscal management, delivering 10 consecutive budget surpluses.

His government also took a hardline approach on crime, drove education reform and maintained a strong emphasis on environmental protection.

During his time as premier, Mr Carr introduced a number of environmental reforms, including the creation of more than 100 national parks and the discontinuation of logging in the Brigalow belt in the Pilliga region north of Coonabarabran.

Former NSW Labor premier Neville Wran described Bob Carr as “the very model of a modern Labor premier” and a template for other Australian Labor Party leaders.

“[He was] an articulate and powerful public performer who identified himself with the contemporary policy issues of education and the environment,” Mr Wran said.

Mr Carr also oversaw the building of facilities and infrastructure for the globally acclaimed 2000 Sydney Olympics, described by then IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch as the “best ever”.

Carr resigns as voter satisfaction wanes

But by 2004, after nearly a decade as premier, public support for Mr Carr began to wane and by June 2005, just 35 per cent of voters were satisfied with his performance.

On July 27, 2005, he announced his resignation as premier and Member for Maroubra. He was succeeded as premier by former health minster Morris Iemma.

In the five-and-a-half years following Mr Carr’s resignation, Labor saw three premiers come and go, culminating in Kristina Keneally losing government in a landslide at the 2011 election.

After leaving state politics, Mr Carr continued to campaign for nature conversation and was a vocal supporter of embryonic stem-cell research.

He also maintained his commitment to pushing for Australia’s move from a monarchy to a republic.

Carr joins Senate and becomes foreign minister

Throughout his time in state politics, Mr Carr continually played down suggestions he would pursue a career in the federal parliament but on March 2, 2012, he was hand-picked by then prime minister Julia Gillard to fill a vacancy in the Senate.

The vacancy was caused by the resignation of Mark Arbib, following Kevin Rudd’s loss in a Labor leadership ballot.

Ms Gillard also announced Mr Carr would become foreign affairs minister, replacing Mr Rudd, who moved to the backbench following his failed leadership tilt.

Mr Carr’s first major task as foreign minster was taking over the bid for Australia’s seat on the United Nations Security Council.

“[It] was a wonderful challenge and it was thrilling to be there at the meeting on October 18 last year when we won by such a big margin,” he said while announcing his resignation to the media.

It was the first time Australia had held a seat on the Security Council since 1986.

During his time as minister, he campaigned for the UN to adopt a Global Arms Treaty to reduce the flow of weapons to rogue states and terrorist groups.

He also secured Australia’s abstention on a UN vote to approve observer state status to the Palestinian Authority, a change from Australia’s previous opposition to the motion.

The motion was ultimately carried 138 to nine, with 41 abstentions.

Mr Carr also says he also worked to build stronger relations with the ASEAN and Arab nations.

“I think I’ve been able to see Australian foreign policy more closely aligned with the position of the 10 ASEAN nations,” he said.

“Visiting 11 Arab countries in 18 months, I think, can I point to an enhancement of our relationship with the Arab world?”

Carr defends decision to step aside

Although confirming before the September federal poll that he would seek election to the Senate for a full six-year term, it was widely expected Mr Carr would step down after Labor’s crushing defeat.

But he defended his decision.

“It’s at least three years before we have the chance of another Labor Government,” he said.

“Hogging the shadow ministry, denying a younger colleague the opportunity to serve in that role, I didn’t think upon reflection, would be in the best interests of the Australian Labor Party.”

Mr Carr had a front-row seat for the eventual demise of the Labor government but played down the very public internal dysfunction and leadership turmoil.

“I know there are criticisms and I know the Labor Party is bound now to move beyond the tension of the Rudd-Gillard, Gillard-Rudd relationship,” he said.

“But watching them close up, I saw only positive things about two people trying to do their best for Australia and doing a great deal that was positive and good, especially in the realm of foreign policy.

“So with malice towards none and generosity and charity to all, I bid my farewell.”