Fastest entrance of the event last night was awarded to Malcolm Turnbull, who sprinted into The Australian’s 50th birthday anniversary dinner so quickly he blurred my photo. Malcolm, our cleverest politician, knows that public displays of affection to Rupert Murdoch have a way of coming back to haunt you — who could possibly forget the photo of Tony Blair among the Murdoch godparents? And David Cameron palling it up with Andy Coulson? It’s one thing to be bathing in the gaze of the Sun King at election time (he really likes me!) and another to have your personal text messages to Rebekah Brooks — “LOL!” — read out in a court of law.

Fascinated by the gala dinner at the Hordern Pavilion in Sydney last night, Crikey attended (uninvited) and milled around outside in the rain. Although Malcolm arrived in the same car as Julie Bishop, he rather unchivalrously left her in the dust, although she could have been hampered by towering heels and a really fabulous red lace sheath. A later photo of the two of them on the red carpet shows them standing about four feet apart. Joe Hockey also made a fast entrance, several minutes after NSW Premier Mike Baird, who snuck into the slipstream of another couple.

But the question on everyone’s lips was where was Ken Cowley? According to the gossip in the room, the former head honcho of News had been invited despite giving a rather indiscreet interview about The Australian and Lachlan Murdoch to the Australian Financial Review just a few weeks ago. Apparently he had accepted and then changed his mind — there was no sight of him on the red carpet.

Jeanne Pratt didn’t carry her own brolly (left) while Julie Bishop (right) made do with staffer Murray Hansen as Malcolm Turnbull had already bolted inside. Pics by Liam Mendes 

Other observers were amused by the antics of Paul Keating and John Howard, who were sitting opposite each other on the head table and had to keep turning their heads to avoid eye contact.

Rupert Murdoch gave an impassioned speech, saying that “we are a mere 50 years old. With a little luck and some great advances in medicine, on which we are the cusp, some of us will be here in another 50 years celebrating The Australian’s centenary. One thing is certain, The Australian will be here.” You can watch the video here.

Tony Abbott, that former Oz writer, was sitting on the right hand of Rupert but left very soon after delivering his speech, in which he said that “no newspaper has more profoundly or more consistently shaped the intellectual life of our country”. Twitter lit up last night when the PM described the Oz as the country’s only national paper (what’s the AFR?) and also when MC Peter Van Onselen had a crack about the AFR’s subscriptions, which would have to be a case of the pot calling the kettle black.

Abbott’s speech was followed by a tweet from Fairfax columnist Mike Carlton, who said that “when a PM lavishes praise on a newspaper and its editors, you can be rock solid sure that paper has betrayed journalism”.

It wasn’t a good paparazzi night, as among the 450 people who turned up, the gender ratio was about the same as the federal cabinet or an Ian Plimer book launch; 20 to 1. Poor Catherine Livingstone, the chair of the Business Council of Australia, drew the short straw and was the only woman on Rupert’s head table, along with Howard, Keating, Abbott, the Reserve Bank’s Glenn Stevens and Paul Kelly. The last seat was taken by Commonwealth Bank head Ian Narev, who must be thrilled that the Oz has been campaigning against a royal commission into the appalling practices of its “wealth management” division.

The other current and former politicians who came included George Brandis, Bill Shorten and surprise inclusions Jeff Kennett and Martin Ferguson — what have they ever done for the Murdochs? Scattered around the tables were a few billionaires — packaging king Anthony Pratt with his mother, Jeanne (in a fabulous silver sequinned frock), Kerry Stokes and his son Ryan, and James Packer and Lachlan Murdoch, accompanied by his wife, Sarah.

And Australian Rugby Union boss Bill Pulver and cricketer Ricky Ponting have now learned the rule about never standing next to ex-Wallaby captain John Eales (everyone looks like a hobbit).

Other guests included Noel Pearson (who gave an excellent speech), Foxtel boss Richard Freudenstein, David Gonski, Fred Hilmer, Qantas boss Alan Joyce and University of Sydney Chancellor Belinda Hutchinson.

It was raining, and the security guards outside the Hordern Pavilion were carrying umbrellas that said “The Australian’s 50th” and then, in smaller letters underneath, an undecipherable line, followed by “wealthy and powerful”. Despite my best efforts I couldn’t read it clearly — did it say “written only for the wealthy and powerful?” I really hope so.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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