The ALP held a first anniversary fundraising event in Sydney on Friday evening. Tickets to the event, organised by the Labor Business Forum, cost $1500 for a table with a Minister and $500 for one without. That’s $15,000 or $5,000 for a table of ten.

The event demonstrates that political fundraising can never be dissociated from influence-peddling – one way or another.

An advertisement for the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association appears in the accompanying Anniversary Dinner Program. The APPEA has been lobbying heavily for the Government to amend its Emissions Trading Scheme in favour of its members. There have been press reports that the Government is considering adding a third tier of handouts to industries – such as the LNG industry – that are just below the proposed free carbon permits threshold of 1500 tonnes for million dollars revenue. The ETS White Paper is due for release on 15 December and Cabinet apparently is still wrangling over it.

A third-tier of free or discounted permits would turn the Government’s scheme from a No Polluter Left Behind model to one that amounts to a wealth transfer from low-polluting to high-polluting sectors.

Was the ad influence-seeking by APPEA? Not exactly. Nigel Catchlove, APPEA’s Marketing & Communications Director, told Crikey they were offered the ad by the Labor Business Forum as part of shelling out $15,000 for a table. They didn’t ask for it.

Auzcorp, a WA company providing accommodation and catering services to the resources sector, is also advertised in the program, as was alcohol multinational Brown-Forman. Neither company was able to respond to Crikey by deadline about their ads. Auzcorp is represented in Canberra by former Labor Premier Peter Dowding. Brown-Forman is a major alcopops manufacturer through its brands such as Jack Daniels, Southern Comfort and Finlandia Vodka. Its managing director, Michal McShane, is chairman of the Distilled Spirits Industry Council, which has lobbied heavily against the Government’s alcopops excise increase. That increase has yet to be introduced into Parliament.

The organisers had better taste in beverages, incidentally. While honest working man’s beer Tooheys New was on the menu, the “Prime Minister’s Anniversary Dinner Raffle Prizes” were litres of Grange Hermitage.

But the selection of two of the key groups lobbying against high-profile Government policies as advertisers in the Program could hardly be a coincidence. Perhaps Labor is currying favour, not the other way around.

The Prime Minister, as reported the following day, did not attend the dinner because, according to The Age, “Mr Rudd — along with Treasurer Wayne Swan, Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard, Foreign Minister Stephen Smith and Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon, among others — instead attended a meeting of the cabinet national security committee in Canberra.”

That’s not exactly correct.

The National Security Committee of Cabinet comprises the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister, the Treasurer, the Cabinet Secretary, the Attorney-General, the Minister for Defence and the Minister for Foreign Affairs.

Joel Fitzgibbon and Stephen Smith were both in London for the AUKMIN talks with the Poms. Those talks have been long-scheduled and neither Fitzgibbon nor Smith were listed as attending in the Anniversary Dinner program.

But Julia Gillard, Wayne Swan and Robert McClelland were all at the dinner – although Gillard and McClelland were late, according to an attendee. John Faulkner was also listed as a guest but his office had not got back to us by deadline on whether he attended.

It’s possible Gillard, Swan and McClelland participated in the NSC meeting via secure video-link or teleconference prior to attending the dinner. Fitzgibbon and Smith could have done the same from London. They didn’t all need to be in the Cabinet Room in Canberra.

But the event MC, young Blaxland MP Jason Clare, told guests Rudd was unable to attend because of the NSC. And the media spin was that Rudd was too concerned about the safety of Australians in Mumbai to attend something as banal as a fundraiser.

What was the real reason? Rudd was crook when he returned from Peru. He sounded terrible in Parliament when he arrived back, and Neil Mitchell paused an interview with him on Friday morning to let him get a glass of water, saying “you don’t sound all that well.” Illness might’ve been a perfectly acceptable excuse not to show.

More likely, Rudd wanted to avoid the image of being out raising money and celebrating the first anniversary of his election while Australians had been killed in India and were unable to get out of Bangkok. Headlines like “Rudd parties while Aussies fear for lives” would be fairly predictable. It also avoided the Gareth Evans Effect. Footage of Gareth Evans celebrating at the True Believers dinner in 1993 was used to deadly effect by the Liberals in 1996.

The Prime Minister’s Office did not respond to Crikey before deadline.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey