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Bob Carr on foreign policy, climate change, and the use of politics

Former NSW Premier delivers invitation-only masterclass, lecture during visit to UOW

The Use of Politics was the theme of Bob Carr’s lecture at the University of Wollongong (UOW) on Tuesday (4 September), and the former New South Wales Premier had plenty to say on the subject.

In a wide-ranging and fascinating discussion to a packed audience, Mr Carr shared his thoughts on his time at the forefront of state and federal power, climate change, the United Nations, national parks, heroin injection rooms, the Syrian Civil War, and the rise of fringe politics.

Mr Carr, who was at UOW to deliver an invitation-only masterclass to political and history students, also spoke about his new book, Run For Your Life, a political memoir that he described as “unlike other political memoirs” with a mix of humour, self-deprecation, and self-criticism with a dash of future planning.

“I was trying to figure out a way to make state politics interesting,” he said, to laughs from the audience. “Most readers didn’t want to hear about how I was about to deliver my seventh state budget, and deal with stamp duty issues.”

So, he decided to play around with the formula, and offer his readers a unique insight into a life dedication to politics.

During his lecture, Mr Carr’s spoke of two of the issues that were close to his heart as premier, a role he held for 10 years from 1995 to 2005. While they seem to be polar opposites - the massive expansion of the National Parks system, and the spearheading of the heroin injection rooms in Sydney – both issues were met with huge opposition and controversy at the time but have proved to have a demonstrably positive impact.

Both issues, Mr Carr said, speak to the need to balance the many competing priorities that come with being a politician, and find a way forward through the media and political noise.

“It showed how to do things in politics to create change,” said Mr Carr, of bringing the opposing sides of the arguments together. “Often in times of chaos and crisis. That is when you need political leadership.”

Bob Carr Book Launch Collage

It is clear that a love of foreign policy remains part of Mr Carr’s political DNA. His lecture began with a story about his time visiting the Syrian refugee camps in 2012 and feeling despair at the people who had fled their homes, with no possessions, and were now living across the border.

“They had to flee their country with only the clothes on their backs, because if they were seen with bags, they risked being shot. Those people are still there, living in camps, under canvas,” Mr Carr said. “That was almost seven years ago and there’s no end in sight.”

To that end, all proceeds from Mr Carr’s book will be donated to childhood victims of the Syrian War via the United Nations High Commission For Refugees, which he praised for their work with children in conflict.

The work of the UN was referenced throughout his lecture, a nod to his time as Foreign Minister in former Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s government.

At that point, Mr Carr had retired from state politics after 10 years as NSW Premier, but he was elected to the Australian Senate to fill a casual Senate victory in March 2012.

For the next 18 months, he jetted around the globe as Australia’s envoy, a role that gave him an insight into the conflicts and challenges that dominate international affairs, such as the South China Sea, the Syrian War, Israel and Palestine, and the rise of China as a superpower.

However, he returned to the environment when naming the biggest threat to the world order: climate change.

“Drought caused by climate change has been linked to the start of the Syrian War,” he said. “We are dangerously close to the two degrees warming that scientists have been warning about.

Climate change will have a catastrophic effect on our way of life. It is the single greatest issue facing the world today.”

While Mr Carr said the use of politics lay in its ability to affect change, he believes Australia, as a nation, is lacking in political leadership.

“Politics helps you to deliver change,” he said. “But, especially in light of all the leadership changes in Canberra lately, I think there is a real need for political leadership in democracy. Australian politicians used to believe in something. Australia is hungry for vision.”