Somewhere within the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet — 1 National Circuit to Canberra familiars — is the Gifts Cupboard. There’s been much play of this fact in the country’s little papers today, with links to the full and well-maintained list of official presents that have exceeded the value of trinkets which might legally be pocketed by the PM on duty. Most of it seems to be on the slightly expensive side, and the bulk of it seems to be giftware almost entirely unencumbered by good taste.

Casting an eye over the Gifts Received Report — Ungrouped conjures a vision of a store room full to pussy’s bow with the most unlovely tat. What can PM John Howard have said when Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger presented him with a “cast bronze bear” value $1400? “Thank you Arnold,” most likely, while still grimacing from the accompanying handshake. How apt for The Australian Zohar Project to present PM Kevin Rudd with “The Zohar — 23 volume set”.

How unsurprising that it will see out its days in a cupboard. Nice of the Cubans to front with 25 Romeo y Julieta Churchills, and there must surely be something better that could be done with the cupboard’s half dozen bottles of various Grange vintages (1990 is popular), Moet et Chandon and Krug. The impression forms that the Gifts Cupboard might be a comodious venue to see out the end of the world or similar, flanked by fine wine, cigars, abundant reading material, various “Oroton goods”, “yellow and white gold APEC cufflinks”, an “album of prints by Mr Fan Zeng” (presented by the artist) and a “hand painted portrait bottle depicting the Prime Minister John Howard” in case of post-Grange emergency.

The fact that these gifts exist ought not surprise, the fact that the world’s leaders and diplomats seem to be a group entirely deprived of imagination or taste is another thing altogether. Still if the US President can give the British Prime Minister a box DVD set of Hollywood highlights in an unplayable DVD format, then the bar is well and truly low and we should just smile and be grateful for the “framed photo of the Gold Coast”,  “value $300” … which didn’t come from Obama, but might give him an idea. As for the rest of the stuff, it’s time we moved beyond the cupboard. We need a national pool room.

Peter Fray

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