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Parliament’s journos, pollies and lobbyists donned their finest for last night’s annual Mid-Winter Ball in Canberra — and who knew Bill Shorten had a comic streak? The PM and opposition leader always give a speech, and despite being, well, quite drunk, all the journos listen closely to see what they’re made of. The verdict on last night? Shorten was funnier.

Before hundreds in Parliament’s cavernous Great Hall, Shorten noted that the ball was usually a relaxing occasion for ALP leaders — what with Kevin Rudd and then Julia Gillard being knifed soon after the 2010 and 2013 balls. Shorten joked that much had changed since the year before: a government behind in the polls, a PM being hammered over unpopular taxes and broken promises, unruly backbenchers, a leadership contender saying he’s not interested in the leadership, etc, etc.

Shorten mentioned that he’d had a pie before the speech — he has form in that department — and revealed he was glad he wasn’t being overruled by the former GG (aka mother-in-law Dame Quentin Bryce) with the grandchildren.

Abbott’s speech was rated second-best. He made fun of his schoolboy French, saying since he’d got back from France there was something he wanted to say. He then rolled out a foreign phrase, translated on the screen as “good evening, my name is Anthony, I’ve come to stop the boats”. Hilarious. Although if Abbott thinks he went to Normandy to stop the boats, he’s really got his history wrong …

Abbott also made fun about his famous/creepy winking inclination, pointing to pics of Obama winking and saying it’s really catching on.

The sombre case of detained Aussie journo Peter Greste, on trial in Egypt, was in people’s minds, with several speakers referring to his plight.

But the ball is not just about pollies’ speeches. Our spies tell us Fairfax stalwart Tony Wright turned heads with his patterned black tie (apparently you’re supposed to wear a bowtie, although a few senior pollies went with a black tie). Wright had a few cheeky red wines and told some good yarns. Paul “Bonge” Bongiorno from Channel Ten was holding court at his table (he’s not leaving the network, which is cutting back drastically, but will stay on part time). The ABC’s Latika Bourke was spotted deep in conversation with Tory MP George Christensen, while a certain Liberal MP generated whispers as he chatted with various “women in quiet corners of the room”. Well, that’s Mid-Winter Ball tradition.

Here’s a few of the tweets from last night …

We hear former Crikey scribe Matthew Knott won best on ground for dancing, but was given a run for his money by Barnaby Joyce, who was one of the dancefloor stayers. Presumably he was trying to dance away his sorrows over Queensland’s State of Origin loss — he had tears in his eyes as he broke the news to his fellow Queenslanders, according to Triple J’s Alice Workman. Chivalrous Abbott staffer Andrew Hirst and Sky silver fox David Speers were voted “gentlemen of the night” by some female attendees we spoke to (we’re not being facetious — both are well-respected in gallery corridors).

Comic Gerry Connolly did a routine, but it bombed. He got a big laugh dressed as the Queen for his opening line — “Miss Credlin, Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition” — but the next round of applause didn’t come until he finally said he was finishing up. His impression of Clive Palmer, in a fat suit, fell flat. Sorry Gerry, but The Australian has done that one to death.

Turning to fashions on the field, Shorten’s wife, Chloe Bryce, was bold in powder blue and stole, Labor’s Melissa Parke debuted a great pink frock (and a new beau — move over, Greg Combet), Christine Milne was elegant in bluish purple with her son Tom as her date, and Adam Bandt’s partner Claudia Perkins nailed a glamorous Grecian yellow number.

Julie Bishop debuted an interesting gladiators-inspired black frock, while Speaker Bronwyn Bishop carried off a scarlet jacket and clutch (not literally). Anthony Albanese’s partner (and Labor luminary), Carmel Tebbutt, looked smashing in purple. There were plenty of women in long, halter-neck black frocks (ping Margie Abbott, Paul Howes’ wife Olivia Wirth) — yawn.

Various pollies are auctioned off for charity at the ball, and this year, as usual, dinner with the PM at one of his official residences was a big earner — $15,100 got someone a dinner with Tony. The home-cooked dinner with Julie Bishop and Malcolm and Lucy Turnbull went for an impressive $10,600.

But how times have changed — events with Labor and the Greens didn’t net nearly as much this year. Punters were ready to pay more to sup with incoming balance-of-power tsar Clive Palmer ($5200 for fried rice and an ice-cream sundae at a Canberra restaurant). The cash — $320,000 in total — goes to groups including Send Hope Not Flowers, Menslink and Cystic Fibrosis ACT. And who says journos never help anyone?

The Guardian’s Lenore Taylor won the Lyneham Award for top-notch political journalism.

And now we sit back and wait to see if Shorten meets the same post-ball fate as Rudd and Gillard … or perhaps it’s Abbott who will suffer the curse of the Mid-Winter Ball?

Peter Fray

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