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Campaigning as an Ex

January 5, 2012

Nothing more ex than an ex. In my case, ex-Premier of course. But if you have spent all your life in arguing about policy how – and why – would you desist?

One of the happiest campaigns I devised after leaving “the job” was in getting regulations to force fast-service food outlets to post calorie information on their menus. It came into effect January 1. It means a harried mum picks up information that enables her to make healthier food choices for her kids when she shepherds them into a McDonalds or Kentuckys. Along the way on that campaign I and health professionals put more pressure on the companies to “re-compose” their food products and you might have seen the letter I published here from Hungry Jacks about less salt and less fat in their offerings. The others have been moving as well.

This is nearly as important as campaigns on smoking.

Last year I was able to join with others in NSW politics in celebrating the advantages and explaining the working of the medically-supervised injecting room. Full marks to Kristina Keneally in ending its status as experiment and rendering it permanent. Putting the case in the media all over again last year I was heartened that people could see the value of what we did in 1999, surprised that we remained the only jurisdiction in Australia.

The biggest environmental successes I have been involved in since retirement were, one, persuading the NSW government to save the River Red Gums – it looked a lonely campaign for a while (I and the wonderful people of the National Parks Association and former colleagues Bob Debus, Graeme Wedderburn and Mark Aarons but Premier Rees delivered and Premier Keneally clinched it) and, two, the campaign against the notion of a “Big Australia” so that both sides of Federal politics would now never use the catchphrase. That, too, in late 2009-2010 looked a very lonely campaign.

River red gums along the Murray (Photograph: Bill Bachman)

So did opposing the woeful notion of Australia adopting a charter of rights and signing up for more judge-made law. For a brief period I could see the country sliding in that direction because nobody on my side of politics seemed to want to speak out and elucidate the principled grounds against the charter. With the support of former NSW Attorney John Hatzistergos, however, the case got made until I got sick of speaking about it. But will resume the duty in debating Michael Kirby on it at a Young Labor gathering in the next few months.

Yes, Labor – the ALP review I worked on with John and Steve. I am convinced it is the ethos – the day to day behavior of the battered old party more than its rules – those too – that needs to be changed. That is why, moving to another campaign of mine, the party should campaign all this year on global warming. Well, first, because it is the biggest threat to humanity but, pragmatically, because the ALP comes alive when it advocates and explains and rallies. Think Whitlam, Hawke and Keating. Passage of the carbon law is just an invitation to do more on this front, not less, as I urged the party at the National Conference in December.

Out of elective office especially, one should not hesitate to be a bit provocative – although as Premier I did go on the record as a supporter of nuclear power. I have repeated that call since. We need to throw everything at the woeful prospect our planet could suddenly find itself two degrees warmer and that means the most reliable source of base-load energy.

My big disappointment has been not getting an opening of the Australian book market. This is nuts. I can download on an e-reader, order books on-line but a bookshop is stopped by the law from importing cheaper books to sell to it customers. Nuts.

  1. Andrew Desmond permalink
    January 5, 2012 7:14 pm

    Especially agree with your comments re books. In effect, we have a tax on education. How is this acting as a smart country?

  2. steve crawford permalink
    January 6, 2012 6:28 am


  3. Sara Huang permalink
    January 6, 2012 9:15 am

    Applause your effort in conservation, fighting global warming and your arguements against “big Australia”.

    I think it is time big business need to include “costs on nature” in their profit & loss statements. If you consider how much they’ve taken from nature for free, the little value many of them produced is hardly worth it.

    Politicians should take leadership on this issue.

  4. Rick Wallin permalink
    January 6, 2012 6:18 pm

    Bob, don’t our current book import rules prevent the import and sale in Australia of low or no royalty foreign editions of Australian authored books? Isn’t this a good thing?

    • Bob Carr permalink
      January 6, 2012 9:59 pm

      No absolutely not. This is a myth. What they do is protect British-owned local publishers. That is, from the prospect of book retailers securing cheaper copies of the bestsellers readers want – and offering them for sale. Mad, given that consumers can now go online or download. By the way keeping prices one third higher discourages people from reading and that means lower royalty payments to Australian authors. Cheaper prices, more sales, more royalties.

  5. boy on a bike permalink
    January 7, 2012 7:00 am

    I wish you luck with the calorie branding stuff – you’re going to need it. It’s a nice idea in theory, but out in the real world, I doubt it will make a bit of difference. However, it will allow lots of McDonalds-hating luvvies to pat themselves on the back and say “Well done”. To see what I mean, drop in at the Yass McDonalds when the punters are heading back to the city after the holidays. We pulled in there for a coffee and kid break a few months ago, and I swear I was the thinnest person there (apart from my missus) and that included the women – and I am not a lean bloke. How much interest was shown in healthy eating? Ermmm…not a lot. Sad, but true.

  6. robin linke permalink
    January 15, 2012 3:19 am

    Re Nuclear Power and climate change. The case for nuclear power in Australia is overwhelming. There is no other carbon free base load power source given that further developement of hydro power is also banned. Rapid climate change makes the case for genetically modified food research urgent.

    The media do not confront Labor or the Greens on these issues. They are not part of the school curriculum. Libraries stock hundreds of books on environmentalism and renewable energy yet virually nothing on nuclear.

    Can anyone explain this psychopathology of public debate in Australia.


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