Australian Outlook

Issues Brief

17 Apr 2014
Colin Chapman

“That book” became an issue this week. Bob Carr’s Diary of a Foreign Minister has been – to use the former foreign minister’s own vernacular – “selling like hot cakes.” It just goes to prove that there is a future in non-fiction provided that the publication is topical, well-written, brilliantly promoted, and, in part, contentious and funny.

I found the launch at Dymocks in Sydney an interesting event in itself. In his speech Carr’s mentor, Gareth Evans, lamented that 18 years after being the longest serving foreign minister, his own diaries were still in gestation. Evans made the point, several times, that he was rather different to Carr, a self-confessed ‘media tart’. In particular he disagreed with him about Sri Lanka, but then recalled, in a self-deprecating way, that former US Secretary of State Jim Baker had once advised, “in this world, Gareth, sometimes you have to rise above principle”.

Evans suggested obliquely that Carr might have been inspired by the success of the infamous but entertaining Alan Clarke diaries. Carr confessed that this was one of his aims in becoming foreign minister for what he correctly anticipated would be a short period. He then got stuck into the Sydney Morning Herald’s Peter Hartcher for his review of the book, which he deemed ‘poison pen journalism’.  He ignored a mocking revenue in the Financial Times. Under the heading “Diary of an Australian Egotist“, the paper’s foreign affairs columnist, Gideon Rachman, described  the book as  ill-advised, and said of Carr “He records with glee, the alacrity with which Australian embassies around the world responded to his bizarre dietary requests.” Up in the national capital, the Canberra Times took an even sterner line: “Bob Carr has let down his party, his former cabinet colleagues and his country”, it thundered.

President Barack Obama is visiting Asia next week, with stops at two crucial north Asian capitals, Tokyo and Seoul, before going on to the Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia.  A major commentary in Forbes Magazine argues said that the President should be working positively to promote the evolution of a new Asian strategic equilibrium.

The US Studies Centre in Sydney provided a helpful, hour-long briefing to correspondents this week, which I attended. Those providing the brief included Director Bates Gill, China expert Linda Jakobson, and CEO of the Perth-based USAsia Centre Gordon Flake. There was consensus that Obama would be doing well if he emulated Tony Abbott’s handling of tricky North Asia tensions.  Beijing, said Jakobson, would be watching very closely for any sign that the US president and his hosts were seeking to contain China, rather than develop closer relations. You can watch the whole briefing here.

The Ukraine-Russia confrontation has escalated with Kiev’s troops have used helicopter gunships to recapture an airport held by Russian militiamen. There is a feeling the crisis is moving to all-out war. The New York Times says Russia has been quick to bend the truth about Ukraine. An Al  Jazeera program says Ukraine has shifted world attention away from Syria.

Six hundred religious leaders from all denominations have combined to complain about food poverty in Britain. The Independent reports that one million people rely on government handouts in order to be able to eat.

With three months to go until the Indonesian presidential election, one of the two leading contenders, Joko “Jokowi” Widodo has shrugged off infighting within his Democratic Party of Struggle.

Ahead of the G-20 summit in Brisbane in November, we’ve heard little about the important meetings of finance ministers and central bankers at the IMF in Washington attended by Treasurer Joe Hockey. Here Christine Lagarde, managing director of the IMF, talks to Charlie Rose about the prospects for the world economy as the G-20 approaches.

Finally The Economist this week has a significant leader on China. It says that for China, coal is the fuel of the future. Unfortunate for the environment, but good for Australia.