Carr, Beazley & the Grove

In July 2012 Australian Ambassador to the US Kim Beazley and then Minister for Foreign Affairs Bob Carr attended the Bohemian Grove festival near San Francisco at taxpayers’ expense. The “festival” itself, the reason they attended and what they actually did there to warrant taxpayer funding remain shrouded in mystery.

Richard Nixon described the Bohemian Grove festival on the Watergate tapes as the “most faggy goddam thing you could ever imagine..”  Herbert Hoover called it “The Greatest Men’s Party on Earth”.

In documents obtained under freedom of information laws Mr De Cure of the Department of Foreign Affairs describes the Bohemian Grove festival as ‘a very informal gathering in a forest in Northern California. From all reports it is very Bohemian ie. casual, with lots of informal discussions and, lots of drinking, eating and communing with nature.  From memory, it is a men only affair…it attracts an influential participation from across the community and he [Carr] would meet some interesting people…from what I can gather it is a bit of a boys weekend away.’ Mr De Cure went onto say ‘As to whether the Minister should go, I would leave that to others to judge. It’s not one of those things that I would announce that he was attending…’

But Mr Carr jumped the gun via Twitter. His tweet appears to have annoyed some within the Department, with a comment ‘I thought we weren’t referring to Bohemian Grove publicly?’  Mr Carr tweeted on 18 July 2012: ‘Lunch with Condie Rice at Stanford, dinner tonight with [Henry] Kissinger and [George] Shultz. Then off with them to conference at Bohemian Grove.’

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade created a Media Talking Point to justify their attendance, transforming the Festival into a “conference”. The same justification appears to have been used by Mr Carr’s office when seeking Prime Ministerial approval for his attendance.

When he was criticised last year for his attendance at the Bohemian Grove festival Mr Carr asserted that the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade “enthusiastically endorsed” his attendance. The FO I documents suggest that the Department was far more circumspect than Mr Carr would have us believe.

Mr Carr appears to have more or less repeated the Department’s media talking point in defending his attendance at the festival, saying he was given the “opportunity to explain and argue an Australian perspective: on Asia, on China, on our nearest neighbour Indonesia” to [unnamed] government officials with influence on policy. The FOI documents fail to shed any light on the nature of those discussions or with whom they took place. Nor has information been provided to the Australian public about the “public interest” outcome of the attendance, particularly having regard to the substantial taxpayer funded cost of Mr Carr’s accommodation and transport.

In fact it’s not entirely clear from the documents released why Mr Carr had to attend at all when Australia was already represented at the festival by the Australian Ambassador, Kim Beazley, who delivered a talk, ‘The Pivot to Asia as Seen from Down Under’ on 19 July 2012. (Mr Carr arrived just after Mr Beazley’s talk had been delivered.)

In a February 2012 letter from a Bohemian Grove Club organiser – on a letterhead which includes its emblem inscription ‘Weaving Spiders Come Not Here’ – organisers told Mr Beazley that ‘…The audience, which will number up to 2000 gentlemen, values a personal insight and a provocative presentation – something frank…the Club strongly protects its privacy. None of your remarks will appear in print…’  Unfortunately the FO I documents released don’t include a copy of Mr Beazley’s “frank” and “provocative” talk, something many Australians would have been and would still be interested to read. The justification: “There was no copy of the speech.  The speech was being delivered in similar circumstances to the Chatham House rule and was not in hard copy nor recorded.  However, the documents did include Ambassador Beazley’s two-page notes/points that he drew upon for delivering the speech.  As these were prompt notes, the dot points were incomplete and without context.   The notes included brief references to aspects of foreign and defence policy which, given the lack of context and detail, could be misinterpreted if disclosed publicly in this form and could cause damage to Australia’s international relations …”

The FOI documents show that Beazley was as keen as Carr to attend the festival. He told the organisers he was prepared to fit in with their schedule ‘irrespective of ministerial commitments’, and after the event he sent a hand written note to his host: ‘…thank you for hosting me at the Grove….The whole thing was intellectually and physically very satisfying. I enclose a cheque which I insist you take covering the jacket and cigars.’

Even with the FOI documents there is no explanation or justification to the Australian public of why Mr Carr and Mr Beazley both attended an event that has  been described as “two weeks of heavy drinking, super-secret talks, druid worship and other rituals”, or why their attendance was in Australia’s National Interests particularly given the myriad of other more conventional meetings, events and summits scheduled throughout any given year providing the opportunity to discuss Australia’s perspective on Asia, China and Indonesia.

The limited information that is available – including the FOI documents – suggests that both Mr Carr and Mr Beazley attended the festival for personal and social reasons rather than in the service of the country, and that their attendance should not have been at taxpayers’ expense.

Copyright  2014 Kellie Tranter

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