Bob Carr takes foreign affairs in Gillard cabinet reshuffle

“I am a natural senator”: Bob Carr at today’s cabinet reshuffle in Canberra. AAP/Alan Porritt

The former NSW premier Bob Carr will join the Senate as Foreign Affairs Minister following a surprise announcement by the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, as part of her cabinet reshuffle.

The appointment defies widespread speculation that the ministry would go to the Defence Minister, Stephen Smith, who was initially offered the foreign affairs portfolio after Kevin Rudd resigned.

Mr Carr revealed earlier in the week that he had been approached by Labor “party officers” to take on the role after Ms Gillard defeated Mr Rudd convincingly in a contest for leadership of the party.

The offer was reportedly withdrawn after Mr Smith resisted stepping aside, and in the face of objections by another Labor minister, Simon Crean.

But Ms Gillard revealed today that she had decided to elevate Mr Carr to the role to ensure she could build the “strongest possible team” in the ministry.

When asked to explain the confusing developments of recent days, Mr Carr said they were difficult to “untangle”: “I was churned up. I was in two minds. It was a big change in the life Helena and I currently enjoy. I was drawn to public service but I’d been out of it for a good six years. So there were warring emotions in my thoughts.

"But in the end, when the distinctive voice of Prime Minister Gillard rouses you from your slumber and says, "Will you be Foreign Minister of Australia?” I couldn’t have found it in me to have said no.“

"You don’t choose the moment - the moment often chooses you.”

The former premier, who presided over NSW from 1995 to 2005, said he intended to run again for the Senate when his term expired: “I am a natural senator.”

Mr Carr said he would seek the advice of Mr Rudd about the portfolio, and added that he wanted to “emphasise the positive achievements of Kevin Rudd … it’s a very significant contribution to this country’s security and wellbeing.”

Mr Smith will stay on in Defence. Ms Gillard said he would be needed there to oversee “major decisions that need to be made in coming months.” She would not comment on his reaction to Mr Carr’s appointment.

A staunch supporter of Mr Rudd, the former attorney-General Robert McClelland, was demoted to the backbench and was reportedly considering his political future. Ms Gillard commended him on “his many years of service in the ministry”.

In other changes:

  • Craig Emerson will take on an expanded role of Minister for Trade and Competitiveness.

  • Brendan O’Connor takes the position of Minister for Small Business, as well as Minister for Housing and Homelessness.

  • Attorney-General Nicola Roxon will take on the additional portfolio of Emergency Management.

  • Tony Burke will assume the extra role of Vice-President of the Executive Council.

  • Kate Lundy has been promoted to Minister for Sport and Minister for Multicultural Affairs, as well as Minister Assisting for Industry and Innovation.

  • David Bradbury becomes the Ministry as Assistant Treasurer, and takes the newly-created position of Minister Assisting for Deregulation.

  • Kim Carr will take over the Human Services portfolio.