Australia's straight-talking foreign minister, election watch in Vanuatu, and the soft power of Kiwi sport.
The appointment of Bob Carr as Australia’s minister for foreign affairs stands as one of the defter – and one of the more surprising – moves of Julia Gillard’s premiership. After Carr’s predecessor, Kevin Rudd, self-destructed in an impetuous attempt to unhorse the prime minister in February 2012, Gillard manoeuvred Carr, the former three-term premier of New South Wales, into a vacant federal Senate seat, and awarded him Rudd’s old job.
Carr is an unusual politician, as may be appreciated by surveying his website: it includes his film, theatre and book reviews and sections on the US Civil War and the “romance” of the Cold War. Carr has written several fine books, and counted Gore Vidal among his friends.
Carr had only been in the job two days when he prompted a minor uproar by threatening sanctions against Papua New Guinea if it delayed its elections. Later, Carr – a passionate Americaphile – engaged Mitt Romney in a private conversation about perceptions of American decline, and found his remarks rather cheaply exploited by the candidate to score against Obama. Neither experience is likely to dissuade Carr from speaking his mind. Once pressed for his vision of how the world should perceive Australia, Carr replied “funny, friendly, benign”: qualities he personifies rather well.
Maintaining the balance:
Carr has said that he regarded Australia’s security relationship with the US as “the bedrock”, while noting that Australia’s prosperity was underpinned by an economic relationship with China.
Indonesia has long been the fount of Australian paranoia. This has focused on refugees in boats who arrive via Indonesia – Carr wants to move past such emotive issues.
Patrolling the Pacific:
Diplomatic relations with rickety Fiji have been restored, but no sane observer would bet on it lasting.
Date: 30 October
Candidates: Vanuatu’s democracy is a lively one. At the last election in 2008, the 52 seats were divided between 16 parties.
Issues: Vanuatu’s accession to the World Trade Organisation was ratified in July but is still opposed by unions, business leaders and churches. The government is also embroiled in legal challenges pertaining to a recent increase in Vanuatu’s minimum wage.
Monocle comment: Vanuatu’s political system in recent years has resembled an overwritten sitcom, with prime ministers removed and reinstated in bizarre, arcane legal challenges and bureaucratic mishaps. Orderly stability would be a relief.
The tiny Pacific territory of Tokelau is set to become the world’s first solar-powered nation. Rather than continuing to burn expensive imported diesel to provide power to its 1,400 inhabitants, the New Zealand territory has installed 4,032 solar panels to capitalise on one of its most abundant natural resources. By the year’s end, fossil fuels will only be used in the atolls’ three cars.
“Across the Pacific there are literally hundreds of old, inefficient and unreliable diesel generators that are costly to run and bad for the environment,” says Joseph Mayhew of New Zealand Aid, which is funding the work. Tonga, Tuvalu, Samoa and the Cook Islands will follow suit.
New Zealand’s Maori rights movement has an unlikely new leader: a student of 18 from the town of Otaki. Ngaa Rauuira Pumanawawhiti learnt English at four and started a university degree at 12. By 15 he was studying political philosophy at Yale.
Since returning from the US, he’s led the debate on better education for Maoris. Some have pegged him as a future PM. The Mana party has even extended an invitation to run for parliament. “There is huge pressure,” says Pietra Brettkelly, director of Maori Boy Genius a film about Ngaa Rauuira’s life. “But he’s decided it’s part of the package of having the gift of knowledge.”
Athleticism is so central to New Zealand’s foreign presence that the portfolios of foreign affairs and sport are held by the same minister. A record haul of six gold medals at London 2012 means the country’s stock is riding high.
How do your roles as sports and foreign minister work?
New Zealand is often recognised abroad more for its sports people than its diplomatic initiatives. I’ve tried to use our international sports people to help promote tourism and trade.
Is there a danger of leaning too heavily on the soft power of sport in diplomacy?
I don’t think you need to overdo it but for a small trading nation like ourselves our iconic sports people certainly help.
Why are a record number of Kiwis immigrating to New Zealand’s sporting rival, Australia?
There are jobs in Australia’s mining sector that reward people well. Also the earthquake in Christchurch wiped out over 10 per cent of our GDP. That is going to take a while to get over.
Australian forces stationed in Timor-Leste are due to leave by the end of the year, although the young Lusophone country – which won independence in 1999 – remains unstable.