IF anyone in Labor can fill Kevin Rudd’s formidable foreign policy shoes it’s Bob Carr.
Mr Carr is a profoundly intelligent and well-connected man with a lifelong passion for international affairs who will no doubt promote Australia’s interests on the world stage with considerable energy – much like the man he’s replacing.
Indeed, one of the first things Mr Carr did in his press conference alongside Prime Minister Julia Gillard on Friday was praise Mr Rudd’s foreign policy achievements.
“I want to build on these, and I want to seek his advice and his views,” Mr Carr says.
So what will he do differently to Mr Rudd? Probably not that much, at least to begin with.
“I wouldn’t nominate anything now,” Mr Carr says.
“I think inevitably over time, as I feel my way and benefit from the briefings, there will be differences of emphasis.”
Mr Carr has already made it clear he intends to be an activist foreign minister in the same mould as Mr Rudd and Labor forerunners Gareth Evans and Doc Evatt.
Mr Carr’s immediate priority will be tending to Australia’s relationships with nearby nations like Indonesia and Malaysia – relationships some accused Mr Rudd of neglecting in favour of more glamorous international summitry.
But Mr Carr is unlikely to confine himself to the region for long.
He, like Mr Rudd, believes Australia’s voice should be heard further afield.
To that end, one of his top priorities will be pursuing Mr Rudd’s pet project of securing a temporary seat on the United Nations Security Council for the first time since the mid-1980s.
“I look forward to throwing myself into it,” Mr Carr said of the bid, which goes to a vote in October.
“I’ve noticed a cautious optimism around when Australian diplomats – serving diplomats, retired diplomats – speak about this.”
Mr Carr is a committed multilateralist but also a deep admirer of the United States. Australia’s alliance with the US will be on firm ground.
And he’s well aware of the challenges involved in balancing the US alliance and Australia’s ties to the rising Asian giants of China and India.
“These are the revolutions of our times, and it makes Australia’s position so rivetingly interesting,” he says.
“Obviously a lot of hard policy slog lies in finetuning Australia’s response to that.”
The 64-year-old has spoken of the need for Australia to be a good international citizen, meaning the rapid expansion of the government’s aid program is likely to continue.
He has also spoken of a desire to inject a bit more bipartisanship into the portfolio.
He won’t just be seeking the counsel of Mr Rudd and Professor Evans in the coming weeks – he’ll also be asking the advice of Alexander Downer, John Howard and Malcolm Fraser.
To his coalition counterpart Julie Bishop he says his door will be always open: “We should be all about helping Australia, promoting Australia.”
Mr Carr does bring some baggage to the job – perhaps most notably his long-running blog, where he has expressed some very colourful opinions likely to conflict with official government policy.
He’s already been forced to defend himself on that score.
“The views I expressed on my blog were those of a private citizen,” he says.
“I now speak as someone with responsibilities in a government.”
Critics say Mr Carr has something else in common with Mr Rudd: an obsession with the media cycle.
His NSW government certainly took media management to a new level of sophistication and control previously unheard of in Australian politics.
Nonetheless, most of the reaction to Mr Carr’s appointment has been positive.
Professor Evans delivered a ringing endorsement.
“I think with Bob Carr we can look forward to a very creative and fascinating period in the conduct of Australian foreign policy,” Prof Evans told AAP.
“He gets it, he understands the issues, he has a very finely honed set of policy and personal skills that are needed for the job.
“I fear for my legacy.” – AAP
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