Carr and the UN abstention: Danby tells all

December 12, 2012 by Michael Danby
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An edited op-ed on Bob Carr and the abstention by Federal Labor Michael Danby appeared in sections of the media today. J-Wire publishes the full piece.From Michael Danby

Back in the late ‘70s Bob Carr used to run ideological training schools for social democrats when he was an industrial officer at the NSW Trades and Labour Council. I should know. I was his first recruit from Victoria (his third was Peter Costello). Oops. Later, when Carr was a journalist with the defunct Bulletin magazine and Victorian Labor was controlled by the Hartley Socialist Left Group, Bob would joke that he felt like hooking my telephone calls to the PA system, so I could broadcast from “Soviet occupied Victoria.”

Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Michael Danby

In the good old days he knew that it wasn’t enough to be a member of the Labor Right faction and simply dismiss your opponents by saying “Bag ya head – you’re a bloody Com!” He knew that unprincipled, lack of belief, “whatever it takes” mentality was a fatal weakness in the struggle for the soul of the Labor Party in the decades prior to 1990 and the end of Soviet Communism, symbolised by the fall of the Berlin Wall. Later I did some major fundraising for Carr when he was Opposition Leader. Perhaps it was inevitable, the coincidence of Cold War ideological conflict and then Bob Carr’s election as a NSW state politician led to us drifting apart.

As NSW premier he awarded the Sydney Peace Prize to Palestinian ideologue Hanan Ashrawi. As the only major figure in the Australian Jewish community to defend his actions, I used the Voltaire argument, ‘his right to say things to which others disagreed’.  After his demise as premier I didn’t pay much attention to Bob Carr, except to lament to other Labor moderates around the country, about the absence of beliefs of some NSW ‘comrades’. Now there are clever and capable labor figures in NSW such as Paul Howes, Tony Burke, Chris Bowen and Luke Foley but any examination of some NSW state MPs show the obvious debilitating quality of most of the NSW right faction of the ALP in the post Keating era.

Parliament last week saw a switch in Australia’s stance at the UN creation of a Palestinian state. Many in the Labor Party have sharply different views about the reasons for the switch.  Those differences need to be examined because they relate to important issues that affect the future of Australia, not just symbolic stances on foreign policy.

When Bob Carr was Premier of NSW he would never have permitted Treasurer Michael Egan ringing around trying to get the numbers to sell NSW power stations. Such action would not have been tolerable even if Egan or his later incarnation Michael Costa were right, that the voters of NSW would have benefited from $35 billion of extra funds for infrastructure. It is unacceptable in a Cabinet for a Minister to act, in Whitlam’s immortal description, like Tiberius on the telephone organising numbers against his or her leader.

Some Caucus members worry about every Palestinian, who is, per capita aid dollar, the most highly subsidised minority in the world. This includes $350 million of Australian tax payer dollars!  By contrast, poor gentle Tibet gets little sympathy. Peaceful Buddhists, more than 80 Tibetans have burnt themselves to death in the last 18 months as a result of Chinese oppression. Tibetans launch terrorist attacks on no-one. They acquire no Iranian missiles to attack Chinese cities; they strap on no suicide vests to blow up no children on school buses. Yet the Tibetans can’t get a meeting with our Foreign Minister and they don’t get a dollar from the UN. We avert our eyes when a real power like China crushes under its boot an ancient people like the Tibetans. With a bit of prodding, when he was Opposition leader, even Kevin Rudd met the Dalai Lama.

Now our Foreign Minister asks of the Palestinian vote at the UN: “How will I explain this on the steps of the mosque at Lakemba?” Yet there are no Caucus resolutions over the far worse plight of 7 million Tibetans or the 200,000 in the living death of the North Korean concentration camps or the 300,000 African Muslims of Darfur butchered by their Islamist government in Sudan. But the domestic implications of the last sitting week are of more importance.

The ostensible, domestic motivations for our changed vote are the most troubling aspect of the debate inside the Labor party during the final week of Parliament. It is self-defeating to claim, as was widely claimed, that voters in Western Sydney (who swung against the NSW Labor party by 30-40% at the last state election) will be influenced by votes at the United Nations. Corruption at the heart of both the Left and Right of NSW Labor and the clear lack of infrastructure, particularly in western Sydney are the normal factors that are a real turn off in Sydney seats. Phoning around, then speaking on the matter (after you’ve promised not to) and ultimately threatening to speak against the Prime Minister are all unforgivable behaviour for a Minister. Indeed any Minister in any Cabinet Government. Behaviour he would never have tolerated as Premier.

However, at the end of the day, Bob Carr can do as he likes. Thanks to the fundamental power shift that Kevin Rudd engineered, that was partially responsible for blowing the kettle lid off his leadership, members of the Federal parliamentary Labor Party gave up the rights we had for a century, to elect the ministry. John Faulkner is adulated for his remarks about internal democratic rights. Yet this democratic right of members of the Federal Parliamentary Labor party to elect the Ministry is a right surrendered. Every state parliamentary Labor party jealously guards that egalitarian principle. If I was to give notice, of even a partial introduction of those rights it might restore some balance in the relationship between the Ministry and their parliamentary colleagues. Such a resolution should not be moved now, as it could unjustifiably damage the woman who, despite the mad misogynist of the internet and talk radio, the Rudd insurgency and a ‘chicken little’ Opposition has brought Labor to a 50/50 (two party preferred) position. If Labor wins or loses (and I have the honour to be re-elected), democratic rights of the Caucus should be restored in a vote that takes place before the normal ballot for the leadership, immediately after the next election.

Michael Danby is the Federal Member for Melbourne Ports



5 Responses to “Carr and the UN abstention: Danby tells all”
  1. Phil says:

    A corageous and suscinct assessment, showing true leadership.
    Carr’s position was not one of leadership – just avoiding criticism from a very determined vocal minority.

  2. Henry says:

    Michael, you’re on the wrong side mate. You sound like a reasonable, fair-minded man in a pit of ‘RED’ belly black snakes’.

  3. Rita says:

    Despite all the courageous effort by Michael Danby, a vote for the Green/Labor/Union left is – like the 2nd vote for Obama – a vote for the destruction of Israel.

    Why Jewish people would vote that way, I will never understand.

    • Rita says:

      Despite all the courageous effort by Michael Danby, a vote for the Green/Labor/Union left is – like the 2nd vote for Obama – a vote for the destruction of Israel.

      Why Jewish people would vote that way, I will never understand.

  4. Gedalia says:

    If Michael Danby would defect from Labour and join the Liberal Party then he would be elected with the highest majority of any MP in the next Parliament.

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