The dignified merchant banker knew how to do things to minimise any embarrassment and maximise the memory of an Australian Treasurer. He picked up Treasurer William McMahon and his wife and personally escorted them to the jeweller in the South American city hosting the IMF meeting.

My old boss Max Newton went along for the ride as his close mate Billy picked a little something that took Sonia’s fancy. I remember Max recalling how cheap the sparklings were. Not a hint of impropriety. Just an Australian Treasurer taken to a place of incredible value by the boss of the firm that handled the country’s international loan raisings. No gift to declare because this had been a purchase.

There are many ways to thank a politician for services rendered or services expected or for no services at all apart from being a lovely person. It is the somewhat seedy side of politics that politicians prefer not to talk about and journalists, prone as a profession to a little payola of their own, are normally reluctant to investigate. Every now and then the public get a little peep through the curtain – like the couple of examples on last night’s television and in this morning’s papers.

Federal Opposition Leader Kim Beazley has had to wince about his relationship with the Australian champion political fund raiser Brian Burke. Those taped phone calls showing how Burke obtains a quid pro quo for his financial largesse come election time were embarrassing. But not embarrassing enough for the cock to crow once let alone three times. Just a muttered cackle about postponing the friendly relationship while investigations are continuing.

The would-be Opposition Leader Bill Shorten is learning about the money trail before even entering the House of Representatives. The national secretary of the AWU and the candidate for the safe seat of Maribyrnong has decided to hand back to donors the money collected at a fund raising lunch in Perth organised for him by Mr Burke. Not that he needs to worry too much. Dick Pratt of Visyboard can just run another little soiree for him at Raheen and the loan of the Visy executive jet is a neat little subsidy and cheaper than paying economy class on Virgin.

As for the acting Queensland Premier Anna Bligh, she would like it known that she can not be bought by a property developer for six bottles of wine. With a value less than $300 they were not even worthy of being declared on her list of pecuniary interests. As she told The Australian: “I don’t believe there is anybody out there who thinks two six-packs of wine would influence a government minister to do anything. I think it’s implausible. I think it’s a nonsense … it is bottom-of-the-barrel muckraking.”

As a Barossa wine merchant I could not agree more. My brother and I always maintain that a delivery of a minimum five dozen is necessary to get a politician’s attention. And even then we can not guarantee success. We tend to agree with the Californian legislator Jesse Unruh who once remarked: “If you can’t drink their booze, take their money, fool with their women and then vote against ’em, you don’t belong in politics.”

Peter Fray

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