A rational approach to Budget night would involve filing from the lock-up, meandering down to a rustic Red Hill diner and slurping on a mid-priced pinot before hailing a cab in time for Lateline. Instead, liver carnage was again on the menu last night as Kingston came alive to the bitching of hundreds of hacks and advisers commiserating their poor life choices.

The Oz was dining at the Ottoman restaurant, presumably lured by the Sydney Morning Herald’s website rave about “food unlike any you’ve tasted before”, with the News tabloids consigned to Kingston’s lower rent but occasionally tasty Portia’s Place. Fairfax was also sighted at Portia’s and next door at L’unico, the Labor brainstrust including ACT secretary Elias Hallaj were witnessed grazing over a grand Mediterranean feast paid for out of their own pockets.

Crikey had been shifted to the less salubrious La Rustica for its long scaloppini session and with 3G reception non-existent, smartphones and dubious Shiraz were forcibly downed. Crikey was regaled instead by budget pointy head John Quiggin’s impressive tales of correspondence with Paul Krugman and amusing opinions on the quality of vibrant ABC commentary program The Drum.

SmartCompany soon exited the building citing tiredness, although the kick-on was sadly delayed by Bernard Keane’s lavish ordering of a massive profiterole. But once we hit the Kennedy Room it was game on as Greens advisers fixed their beatific gazes at the cartoonist, who seems to have weirdly morphed into some kind of minor celebrity.

At the Kennedy, critical mass wasn’t reached until well after 11pm when Malcolm Turnbull adviser and background king Stephen Ellis was spotted holding court in tight huddle that included former Alexander Downer adviser Chris Kenny. ACTU president Ged Kearney was in top form bantering with her old nursing mates, kindly offering up an Queensland Nurses Union badge alongside her strong opinion of Crikey sister site The Power Index’s recent union heavies list.

Well after 1am, Heather Ewart, still looking vibrant in a 1980s-style apricot coat donned for national television hours earlier, bowled up for a witching hour tipple. At about that stage, disaster struck as Quiggin, previously in deep conversation with SMH economics-type Jess Irvine about the Keynesian imperative, realised he had misplaced his black overcoat, necessitating a frantic search through the piles of winter gear stacked in various corners of the opulent sports bar-style surrounds.

Meanwhile, Simon Sheikh, fresh from the less salubrious Treasury lockup, regaled Crikey with his frustration over the failure of the government to keep its promises on foreign aid as former Nick Xenophon adviser and Today Tonight reporter Rohan Wenn tipped cold water on the prospect of a Xenophon political party. Wenn then kindly splurged on a glass of house plonk and a beer for New Matilda’s Ben Eltham, who had smashed some excellent analysis in the lockup hours earlier.

Crikey bailed up Australia’s most powerful journalism executive Paul Whittaker, who quickly revealed the Tele’s Black Swan front page and gave a full and frank character assessment of Barry O’Farrell and his “do nothing” agenda on infrastructure. Instead, a people’s champion by the name of “Albo” had emerged as a local road king, going into bat for Western Sydney’s daily gridlock debacle.

Whittaker stayed till stumps with an impressive coterie of lady friends and Joe Hildebrand. Hildebrand seemed to be sadly resisting Crikey’s advances, at one point claiming “I don’t know what you’re talking about” in an attempt to put our badgering to rest.

The brow beaten one-time Melbourne University humourist eventually agreed to an iPhone snap that will remain private for now.

Have you seen John Quiggin’s black overcoat? Email [email protected] with any confirmed sightings.

Peter Fray

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