The Prime Minister will be cock-a-hoop with the Australian Electoral Commission’s finding that the Kirribilli Caper does not require declaration as an electoral donation.

Howard will wave off questions, trying to trick journalists into believing it’s all over, that it’s old news, especially as he’s now revealed the Libs have done the same things four times since 1992 and have repaid taxpayers $40,000. Of course, Howard neglected to reveal how much the functions cost to stage in total, so the public could compare what it paid with what the Libs flicked back.

The fact is, this grubby little episode stinks worse than the prawn heads rotting in the compost at Kirribilli. This Prime Minister has been revealed as a scheming rorter, someone who thinks nothing of wining and dining generous Liberal Party donors and letting the taxpayer foot the bill.

There’s a fair bit of convoluted detail and the PM hasn’t helped by being deliberately evasive, but let’s try and keep it simple:

  • Business people each pay the Liberal Party $8250 to attend functions associated with the federal Liberal Party conference.
  • One of the functions is a cocktail soiree at Kirribilli House, the official Sydney residence of the PM.
  • For the Kirribilli function, extra staff and security are hired, one presumes the event is catered, and more than 200 guests attend.
  • Guests who were compelled to pay the Liberal Party $8250 in order to gain entrance enjoy luxurious hospitality, with venue, food and service paid by the taxpayer.
  • The PM evades answering how much the function cost.
  • The PM denies the event is a Liberal Party fundraiser – even though the only guests are Liberal Party delegates and $8250-a-head Liberal Party donors.
  • The PM reveals the Liberal Party has repaid the taxpayer $5100 for the cost of wining and dining party delegates — but not the cost of servicing the donors. He fails to reveal how the $5100 cost was calculated.
  • Labor says the Liberal Party is compelled to declare before 30 June the cost of the taxpayer-funded event as an electoral donation, and that the function has broken the law and corrupted traditional Australian values.
  • The Australian Electoral Commissioner denies a report that one of its officers was told to “shut up” by the Government, and says that “on the facts that have been made available” no electoral donation declaration is required.
  • The PM reveals that in addition to the $5100 repaid following the 2007 soiree, the Liberals repaid $35,000 following Liberal Party functions at Kirribilli and The Lodge from 1999, 2002 and 2005.

The fact is, despite the PM’s evasiveness, these events are wholly and solely Liberal Party events. The only way you got through the door was to pay the Liberal Party a wad of cash. As host, Howard was acting in his capacity as party boss, not the Prime Minister of Australia.

Howard is trying to shrug this off by suggesting it’s not unusual for Kirribilli and The Lodge to offer taxpayer-funded hospitality to guests.

But tally up the guests who have been received over the years and they are generally award winners, sportspeople, charities, business people, dignitaries and the like. None — as far as we know — has been required to pay a big fee to the Liberal Party in order to gain entrance.

It would be interesting to compare the nibbles and drinks offered over the years to SES volunteers and charity workers to that offered to Liberal Party donors. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if “ordinary Australians” came nowhere near to tasting the first-class fare — courtesy of taxpayers — offered to those who wrote a cheque.

The PM and his minions can laugh this off all they like. But they know in their heart of hearts they’ve been caught. Not just once, but at least four times. What they’ve done is wined and dined their cashed-up mates and, when it’s come time to settle the bill, pointed their finger at the poor old taxpayer and said, “he’s paying”.

The public deserves to know  how much did the functions in 1999, 2002, 2005 and 2007 cost in total and what proportion of that total cost was repaid by the Liberal Party. The Prime Minister now says it’s not unreasonable for him to have mates around for a drink and a bite to eat.

I don’t know about Howard, but I don’t charge my mates $8000 each to get in the front door.

Remember when John Howard used to complain about extravagance and elites, about governments that spent millions on flashy advertising campaigns and expensive furniture … about governments and prime ministers out of touch with ordinary Australians. What would John Howard circa 1995 say about this bloke?

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey