Mar 1, 2013

Bob’s Dubai drama: Carr should call bluff in diplomatic poker

Bob Carr is naive in his dealings with Dubai to free two Australian businessmen. The Foreign Minister has to call the bluff of those in charge, writes retired diplomat Bruce Haigh.

Bob Carr still hasn't learnt the difference between process and outcomes. He can talk the leg off an iron pot, as he did this morning with Fran Kelly on ABC Radio National, detailing all the many representations he claims the Australian government has made to the ruling regime in Dubai. But the fact remains two Australian businessmen are still prevented from leaving the city state. For some reason or other they have run foul of the ruling elite. Nothing new in that; expatriate businessmen are fair game in the family-run countries of the Gulf. Mostly, greasing palms will guide the way out of whatever maze they have wandered or been drawn into. Sometimes the stakes are higher -- this seems to be the case with Matt Joyce and Marcus Lee. Carr and his cohort can make representations until the camels come home, but if they have nothing on offer -- negative or positive -- Joyce and Lee will do the time the local "aggrieved" party deems appropriate. Two examples. Once upon a time I was a diplomatic representative in an Arabian country. Two expatriate nurses were picked up by local authorities for drinking on New Year's Eve. They were each sentenced to 90 lashes. Yes, 90 lashes. One was an Australian and the other British. I was in charge of the Australian embassy at the time. Representations were made but elicited nothing positive. I went to a senior British diplomat in the British embassy and said we needed to break the impasse. A plan was formed. We made a joint approach to the Foreign Ministry and said, "If you thought the publicity from the film Death of a Princess was bad, you haven't seen anything". We undertook to approach every major newspaper in the West with the story and as cream on the cake, just by chance, the son of the ambassador of our host country had been picked up for drink-driving in Canberra. I undertook to pass that to Western journalists as well. After a week or so the Foreign Ministry invited us back and asked how we saw the matter resolving itself. We said release the nurses, give them back their passports and ensure they receive all payments and entitlements from their employer, and we'd ensure they caught a plane out of the country in 10 days. And that is what happened. In the same country there were two courier companies; one was owned by Australian interests, the other by powerful local interests. The Australian one was shut down by the local police for allegedly carrying drugs. The Australian principals contacted the Australian embassy and said it was highly unlikely drugs had been carried because of measures they had in place with respect to customers and staff. Once again I was acting in charge. I went to my American and British counterparts to see if they could throw any light on the matter. Using different sources of intelligence they both came up with the same answer: a powerful member of the ruling family wanted to take over the Australian courier company. He wanted a monopoly for his own courier company. A senior representative from the Australian company was contacted and advised to come to the Arabian country ostensibly to discuss terms and conditions of the "takeover". A visa was issued for this purpose. On arrival he was fully briefed. He made an appointment, went to the Foreign Ministry in the company of an Australian diplomat and laid out all before the ministry, threatening to go public with the information. Within a short space of time the Australian-owned courier company was operating again and nothing more was said or became of the matter. Bluff and counter bluff; it helps to be a poker player when doing business or representing Australia overseas in certain countries. Carr hasn't got a clue. If Joyce and Lee are to be released he will have to deal with the real world. His track record does not offer encouragement.

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7 thoughts on “Bob’s Dubai drama: Carr should call bluff in diplomatic poker

  1. Gavin Moodie

    Presumably someone else in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade knows this, has advised Carr and Carr has followed the advice.

  2. paddy

    A very illuminating piece.
    I’d always assumed this was how things got done.
    But it’s reassuring to hear it confirmed from the horses mouth.

  3. Pete from Sydney

    Bruce why aren’t you still running the show? everyone else is sooo imcompetent

  4. Venise Alstergren

    Is there no one in Foreign Affairs, or the ministry, who is a professional? The minute he got the job Bob Carr rushed out to laud Israel. That same minute I realised there was another bloody amateur as Foreign Minister.

    On the other hand, the minute the Coalition get into power they will probably request that Benjamin Netanyahu take over the Arabdesk.

  5. AR

    Used Carr was shocked!, shocked I tells ye, that there might any slightest scintilla of a shred of a suggestion that these blokes are toast coz we have nothing to offer as baksheesh. Except maybe Qantas’ IATA trade-off for Oz landing rights and the Kangaroo route.

  6. Mildred Humphrey

    Top notch Bruce, your insights are totally accurate and frame the whole, murky baksheesh ridden landscape of Dubai business for what it really is…

  7. Ward Geoffrey

    Bob Carr is a joke as Foreign Minister. He is simply out of his depth. Frankly, Australian citizens should not expect to get any help from their government should they fall afoul of laws in overseas countries. The standard of leadership we have is pretty abysmal and a change of regime will only make matters worse.

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