With a wide-ranging new memoir, 'Run For Your Life' under his belt, the former Australian Foreign Minister discusses the impact of Trump, the rise of China and the potentially calamitous impact of climate change.

By Daniel Herborn


Posted on August 8, 2018

Bob Carr has been a significant figure in Australian politics, serving as Premier of New South Wales from 1995 to 2005. He also returned to politics at a Federal level in 2012, serving under then Prime Minister Julia Gillard and helping Australia secure a seat on the United Nations Security Council.

After leaving parliament, Carr has remained heavily involved in public life and has continued his interest in China, moving into academia as head of the Australia-China Relations Institute at the University of Technology, Sydney.

Can you see the US shifting dramatically post-Trump or do you think he has changed the fabric of American society?

America after Trump is not going to return to a period of comfortable liberal internationalism. That day is gone for all time.

Trump is permanently degrading American politics and changing the nature of the political parties; he is a radical transformative president. There is going to be no return to the old normal.

If you were in charge of strategy for the US Democratic Party would you run someone who is seen as a ‘safe pair of hands’ like Joe Biden or someone seen as a whole new breed of politician?

The tragedy for the US Democrats is that Joe Biden is not 60 years of age. (Note: Biden will turn 76 in November).
I think the leftward tilt by the Democrats has been forced by Trump. But I don’t think it’s making them more electable. Trump beats Elizabeth Warren in 2020; I think that’s the most likely outcome. She would be hard to beat as a Democratic candidate, although these things are hard to predict. His strengths on trade and border security tip him into a winning position in those four industrial states he narrowly pried away from the Democrats in 2016.

What challenges do world economies face in adapting to the new era of China being the world’s biggest economy?

The shift in the balance of power, especially as it’s so dramatic, is a challenge. We are in the process of going from a unipolar world in which America had banished its rival, the Soviet Union, and provided a rough and ready world order often disrupted by its own lack of judgement, as demonstrated by Afghanistan and Iraq.

We’re moving from that into a world in which America has no alternative but sharing power, especially in the Asia-Pacific, with a country that claims a five millennia-old civilisation, concentrates political power in the hands of the Communist Party and enjoys its own cultural confidence. That’s a particular challenge for America, which is already showing signs of trauma at being overtaken.

What are you seeing in China in terms of the development of high-tech industries like AI and robotics?

Only a few years ago, the then US Vice-President, Joe Biden, said “China doesn’t innovate”. That was an example of lazy American thinking or probably, worse still, raw American arrogance. That is, he was saying only America has got the brains. No-one can say that today and every day we have it confirmed that innovation is now coming out of China.

China is going to become more focused on legal action to protect its intellectual property rather than stealing the intellectual property of others.

We’ve seen Barack and Michelle Obama and Hillary Clinton get involved in the content production game recently. Can you see more former politicians going down this path?

You bet! The most likely career option for Trump if he hasn’t been killed by his lousy diet or assassinated by the deep state, will be launching his own network catering to people to the right of Fox News. That’s a pretty scary thought but it is America’s future.

Some of the most interesting chapters of Run For Your Life see you looking into the future. You evoke an image, for instance, of a ‘Berlin Wall’ type structure around Bondi Beach in 2035. Do you feel governments aren’t taking the problems of overpopulation seriously enough?

The combination of overpopulation and climate change is real. I can’t believe that people write and think in a way that excludes these extreme possibilities.
If even a handful of serious scientists are telling us there is a chance the planet that is five degrees warmer in 100 years than before the pre-industrial era, that is a change we haven’t experienced in millions of years.

I’m astonished by the way the human animal can avoid confronting as radical as that notion when serious scientists are putting it forward based on the evidence before them.

You also ponder being able to disappear into virtual reality worlds in the future. Do you think we are heading for a future where entertainment is all-encompassing and has a narcotic effect?

Yes, you could see that. Someone described internet gaming to me as having that quality just as a foretaste of where we might be headed. In our speculation about what the future holds, it is worth considering that AI could be an irresistible, all-absorbing resort especially if the news outside is about catastrophic climate change and global shifts of population in response to it as well as wars being fought over the waters that flow from Tibet.

Political memoirs are often criticised as being overly safe; how did you go about avoiding this trap?

I wanted to break away from the mould. The trouble with memoirs is that they are so darn predictable. They start at the beginning with family and I think the reader feels it would be nice to plunge right into the story. That’s the spirit I tried to catch.

You started out as a journalist; how do you feel about the future of the media industry?

I’m very worried about it. First of all, I don’t want to sound like I’m pining for the ‘good old days’ but the thing that worries me most is that conventional news organisations are employing fewer and fewer journalists.

Journalists learn how to write, how to research, how to use words with a bit of precision. The best writing in Australia can be found in newspapers when they’re performing at their best. With newsrooms being leached of staff we are losing a great deal as a culture.