The PM’s Liberal federal council Kirribilli cookout was kosher, we were told yesterday. No it wasn’t. If oysters and prawns were served, it wasn’t kosher, culturally. And it still doesn’t seem to be kosher ethically, either.

What’s worse, John Howard may have form on this sort of thing. Something similar was held at The Lodge at the previous Liberal federal council meeting, in Canberra in 2005. Labor may like to look at that, too.

The story just won’t ago away. After Australian Electoral Commissioner Kevin Bodel told The Australian use of Kirribilli House might need to be declared as a gift in kind to the Liberal Party, he was called at home by Special Minister for State Gary Nairn and told to shut his gob.

Labor accountability spokeswoman Penny Wong has submitted a Freedom of Information request to the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet seeking all documents related to the function.

She says that the figures cited by the PM for the cost of the event — $5186.78 — is “a laughably small portion of the real cost”.

“The Liberal Party has only covered food, beverage, additional casual staff and some equipment hire,” she says. “There’s something fishy about his food and drink bill.”

The food bill was $2128.50 and the beverages bill was $1476.52 – for 225 guests at the two-hour cocktail party. That included fine wine, oysters, prawns, and in the words of one guest, “shots of posh soup”.

“Per person, that equals $9.46 for food and $6.56 for drinks,” Wong says. “You’d struggle to pay less for a fisherman’s basket and a pint of beer at the pub.”

Dr Peter Phelps, chief-of-staff to the Special Minister of State, writes: I adore Christian, but unfortunately he has fallen for the old trap of believing that what journalists write, and Opposition MPs say, is unimpeachable fact. Christian wrote: “Australian Electoral Commissioner Kevin Bodel …” The Truth: Mr Bodel is the Director of Funding and Disclosure, not the Commissioner. The Commissioner is Ian Campbell (no, not that one, another one!). Christian wrote: “…told The Australian use of Kirribilli House might need to be declared as a gift in kind to the Liberal Party”. The Truth: No he didn’t. He was asked a hypothetical question by the Australian journalist on the provision of accommodation as a declarable “gift” under the Electoral Act. When the journalist asked about Kirribilli specifically, he told her that he did not have enough information to answer the question. Nevertheless, the journalist wrote her story with the first answer to the second question. Nice — and so honourable. Christian wrote: “…he was called at home by Special Minister for State Gary Nairn and told to shut his gob.” The Truth: Completely false. The SMOS has not spoken to Mr Bodel about this matter at home or anywhere else. The SMOS and I both spoke to the Commissioner, to let him know that the journalist was going to write a story that misquoted one of his officials. Neither the SMOS nor I told anybody to stop making statements, nor did we tell the Commissioner to gag anyone either. You can’t “tell” the AEC Commissioner to do anything anyway. So the allegation is simply untrue. Even the Australian journalist herself now admits that she never intended to implicate the SMOS or myself in any gagging attempt — although it is noticeable that (despite attending a number of press conferences with ALP figures who repeated this false claim) she did nothing to correct the misapprehension which she herself had created. In all aspects of this matter both the SMOS and I have behaved with the utmost propriety — and if you don’t believe me, then this is what the Commissioner himself said via a press release: “The AEC takes its integrity and independence very seriously and I want to make it quite clear that no attempt was made by the Government or anybody else to influence the AEC in its response to this issue,” Electoral Commissioner Ian Campbell said. “Contrary to some media reports, the AEC Director of Funding and Disclosure, Mr Kevin Bodel was not asked by the AEC or the Government to “shut up” regarding these matters.” Just because something is in the paper does not make it true, Christian.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey