Australian ex-minister Carr defends diary as 'darn good read'

Former Australian foreign minister Bob Carr on Thursday defended his new book in which he savages colleagues, speculates about whether US peers have had plastic surgery and derides business class travel as inspired by the slave trade. -- ST FILE PHOT
Former Australian foreign minister Bob Carr on Thursday defended his new book in which he savages colleagues, speculates about whether US peers have had plastic surgery and derides business class travel as inspired by the slave trade. -- ST FILE PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG

SYDNEY (AFP) - Former Australian foreign minister Bob Carr on Thursday defended his new book in which he savages colleagues, speculates about whether US peers have had plastic surgery and derides business class travel as inspired by the slave trade.

Mr Carr, who spent just 18 months in the job until the Labor government was ousted in elections last September, also wrote that China seems to see Australia as "only slightly more important than New Zealand" and wishes Canberra was "a little less craven" towards the United States.

"I am Foreign Minister... I soar above the mundane and serve my country," he writes in "Diary of a Foreign Minister", a book he admits is heavy on self-parody.

The former premier of New South Wales also describes himself, after complaining of tortuous meetings, as "the best chairman I know" and as having "more energy that 16 gladiators".

Seated next to Russian leader Vladimir Putin and across from US President Barack Obama, Mr Carr recalls the words of late author Gore Vidal: "I cannot feel humble. Interested, curious, of course. Just not humble."

The yet-to-be-released book has been criticised by Australia's current Foreign Minister Julie Bishop for "breaching confidences".

But Mr Carr said Australians had a right to know how democracy worked on a day-to-day basis.

"I make no apologies for providing people with a darn good story about how Australian foreign policy is made, about pressures on a foreign minister, about how the whole thing works," he told reporters on Thursday.

He said he used judgement when discussing national security issues in the book, profits from which will be given to a children's charity.

"I gotta tell you I was briefed on a few big slumbering secrets when I was foreign minister, they are national security concerns, they didn't go in the book," he added.

"But there are a lot of insights into how the political process works and I think Australian democracy is going to be better because someone has explained this."

Mr Carr, who was parachuted in by then Labor prime minister Julia Gillard to become the nation's top diplomat, is candid about his colleagues, notably describing Ms Gillard as selfish for holding onto the leadership when her polling was dismal.

On US politicians, he writes that John McCain was "younger and more sparkle-eyed than I might have expected. Plastic surgery? Two days earlier I noticed something about the skin under John Kerry's eyes, smooth and slighty discoloured."

It also outlines Mr Carr's obsession with diet and fitness, including an insistence on eating protein and banning sugar, and complains about airline meals - earning him the title "Bob the snob" in the tabloid press.

"Business class. No edible food. No airline pyjamas. I lie in my tailored suit," he writes in one entry, while in another he complains there were no English subtitles for an opera he watched while in the air.

After receiving an upgrade to first class he notes: "Pathetic that the public service rules reduce me to that, an upgrade for a middle-power foreign minister." On another flight he says passengers were "lying in cribs, packed in business class, a design that owes a lot to the trans-Atlantic slave trade".

Speaking to the ABC, Mr Carr said an Australian foreign minister lived an "inherently unhealthy lifestyle" and he thought the job had taken two years off his life.

"Living on airline food and food at official banquets offended every rule of life I adhere to on that front," said the lean ex-minister.

But he also admitted the book indulges his love of self-mockery and irony, noting: "Life is too short to be taken seriously."