Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull at a press conference after visiting Universal Trusses at Hume in Canberra. Picture: AAP Image/Mick Tsikas
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull at a press conference after visiting Universal Trusses at Hume in Canberra. Picture: AAP Image/Mick Tsikas

Malcolm Turnbull’s striking ambition

FORMER Labor foreign minister Bob Carr has revealed Malcolm Turnbull once had a striking ambition - to be a union leader.

Not just any union. The Prime Minister had wanted to head the Australian Workers' Union.

Mr Carr, also premier of NSW for 10 years, credits meeting Mr Turnbull in the 1970s with a big break that took him out of a rut working for unions.

The outcome of their meeting is covered in Mr Carr's second memoir Run For Your Life, a funny and insightful sweep through Australian politics of the past four decades.

He elaborated on the Carr-Turnbull connection to news.com.au.

He said the two met when Mr Turnbull, a young student working part-time at Sydney's Paddy's market, came to the nearby Labor Council offices to complain about working conditions.

He started chatting to Mr Carr, the Labor Council's education and publicity officer, up on the 10th floor.

 

Bob Carr has spilt on the young Malcolm Turnbull in his new book. Picture: John Appleyard
Bob Carr has spilt on the young Malcolm Turnbull in his new book. Picture: John Appleyard

 

They seemed to click and soon after Mr Turnbull, by then president of the Sydney University Union, invited Mr Carr to join the Labor side in a union debate on the 1974 double dissolution.

"He next turns up as a Bulletin journalist writing some incomprehensible story on the merger of the Shop Distributive Union with the AWU and what it meant to the BWIU (Building Workers Industry Union)," said Mr Carr, exaggerating the complexity of the topic.

"The article ended up being alphabet soup. I was to write my own share of incomprehensible articles on industrial relations."

Mr Carr helped the young journalist and learned of his interest in union matters.

He remembers Mr Turnbull's mother, the academic and writer Coral Lansbury, had great affection for the romance of the AWU.

"And he as a kid had the ambition of being the secretary of the AWU," Mr Carr said.

"So I helped him with the story and he wrote about me and my campaign for a social democratic Labor Party.

"And one day I got a call from him - late 1977 I think, or early 1978 - saying, 'I've just finished a swim at Tatts and am having a salad would you like to come up?'"

That led to Mr Carr getting a job at The Bulletin magazine and eventually the seat in state Parliament he had been working towards to start a political career.

It could be that without the intervention of Mr Turnbull, Mr Carr might have stayed in what he now described as a dead-end union job.

 

Malcolm Turnbull had big ambitions before becoming prime minister. Picture: AAP Image/Mick Tsikas
Malcolm Turnbull had big ambitions before becoming prime minister. Picture: AAP Image/Mick Tsikas

 

More certain are the clashes Mr Carr is now having on major international matters. He is donating his proceeds from the book's sale to victims of the Syrian conflict.

At Labor's national conference in December there will be a motion, originally authored by Mr Carr, to recognise a Palestinian state. He is confident it will be passed.

This will further attract the attention of what Mr Carr in the book calls "The Lobby". It's the network within Australia's Jewish community that actively and resolutely looks after Israel's interests. And they are no friends of Mr Carr.

He is now director of the Australia-China Relations Institute at the University of Technology, Sydney, and an opponent of what he calls "the China Panic".

One of his heroes is Deng Xiaoping, the Chinese leader who modernised the nation's economy and began what Mr Carr calls an experiment.

He writes in his book: "I want a ringside seat to see where the experiment goes, and if that means staring down some of the panic generated by elements desperate for China to fail, then so be it."

And featured strongly among those panic merchants, he says, is the chap who invited Mr Carr to his club for salad, Malcolm Turnbull.

Run For Your Life is out on Monday through Melbourne University Press.


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