“Yes, the rich have got richer – there’s nothing wrong with that.” John Howard was in his element last night addressing a crowd of 500 supporters at Brendan Nelson’s annual Budget night dinner in Parlimanent’s Mural Hall.

“We believe in fair capitalism”, Howard told the crowd, many of whom had flown in for the night from Nelson’s Bradfield electorate. Noting that last night’s changes to tax threshold meant than only 3% of Australians would pay the highest marginal tax rate, he told the crowd: “I know you may think many of them are in this room tonight, but don’t allow self-interest to interrupt a logical generic argument”.

One organisation that’s growing rich on the Budget is the Coalition: the events organised around the Budget will reap the Libs and the Nats upwards of $250,000. And Howard was quick to acknowledge his host’s work: “Brendan, you are indefatigable.” Nearby, Howard’s former senior advisor and longtime friend, Grahame Morris, chatted with Jeanette Howard.

The Mural Hall crowd got the PM for main course and the Treasurer for dessert. Relaxed and expansive, Costello received a huge cheer when he named the abolition of the super surcharge, to fatten the retirement funds of the wealthy, as a great Budget achievement. They heard Costello enthuse about his welfare-to-work reforms and the Future Fund: “This government’s demographic date with destiny.”

More exclusive gigs last night included Finance Minister Nick Minchin’s drinks in his office before the Budget speech and Communications Minister Helen Coonan’s dinner for corporate women. New Liberal backbencher Louise Markus was quick off the blocks, offering a $1200 package including an “intimate luncheon with the rising stars,” incuding high-profile newcomers Andrew Robb and Malcolm Turbull and energetic middle-benchers Greg Hunt and Chris Pyne.

But above all, it was a night for rhetoric. Howard, Nelson told his crowd, was “Australia’s greatest-ever Prime Minister,” while Howard gushed: “Peter Costello is the best Treasurer in this nation’s history…and this is our best ever budget.”

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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