As Bryce Corbett neatly captured in The AFR Rear Window column today, rarely has a bigger group of Australian heavy hitters gathered under one roof as at the Prime Minister’s ninth Olympic Dinner in Melbourne on Saturday night.
Sydney just can’t compete, with even John Howard flying down for the event along with Tony Abbott’s sister, Christine Forster, who was on the City of Sydney table as she gears up to try to replace Clover Moore as Sydney lord mayor next year.
Some 1300 guests packed into the Melbourne Convention Centre, including 133 Olympians and 33 gold medallists such as Ian Thorpe, John Konrads, John Sieben, Natalie Cook and Steve Hooker.
A personal letter from the PM produced a fabulous roll call of pro bono performers, from Ross Wilson to Jimmy Barnes, John Farnham and Jessica Mauboy.
Paul Kelly also got the Turnbull request letter but was a notable absentee — maybe he’s more of a Shorten Labor man.
After 35 years of business columns, Fairfax’s just departed commentator Malcolm Maiden enjoyed what may be his very last journalistic freebie — a seat at a $30,000 table for 10, courtesy of BHP Billiton, which knows plenty about the dangers of excessive Olympic entertainment.
There were politicians aplenty in the house. Tim Wilson and his partner, Ryan, were guests at the Qantas table, hosted by Leigh Clifford, with CEO Alan Joyce not far away but keeping his distance from predecessor Geoff Dixon.
My $50,000 campaign against right-wing ideologue Kevin Andrews in Menzies produced some very interesting reactions from more moderate Liberals such as Arthur Sinodinos, Tim Wilson, Richard Alston and Julie Bishop, who were all up for a friendly chat.
The Foreign Minister was very approachable, and I told her directly that the Kevin Andrews tilt was partly inspired by his pathetic challenge to her position as deputy leader when Turnbull replaced Abbott as PM last September.
The PM, who I’ve promised to support in the next Parliament if elected, gave a strong speech but sounded like he had the flu and left early to beat the curfew back into Sydney.
Others stayed and let their hair down, with Health Minister Susan Ley hitting the dance floor early with legendary sprinter Raelene Boyle.
Everywhere you turned there were powerful players, such as Harold Mitchell, Solomon Lew, Foxtel CEO Peter Tonagh, Telstra CEO Andy Penn, Seek CEO Andrew Bassat, Cricket Australia CEO James Sutherland and the ubiquitous Ahmed Fahour.
The normally chatty AFL chairman Mike Fitzpatrick walked off without responding to a cheerio, presumably upset about City of Melbourne joining the campaign to get the AFL and its member clubs out of the pokies-addiction business.
AFL boss Gillon McLachlan was less concerned when we spoke later, and his sports broadcaster brother Hamish did a superb job as MC over what was a marathon five-hour gig (just 48 days before the Rio games kick off). Kerry Stokes, who was given the keys to the City of Melbourne by lord mayor Robert Doyle last year, was in the house and no doubt impressed.
Olympics supremo John Coates, 66, joked about our old battles at David Jones AGMs and inquired as to whether he had to retire soon due to some tenure limit after serving since 1990.
No way. Who else could run such a huge and unique operation? And no one has ever even tried to challenge him. Although proposing a toast to “the Queen of Australia” rather than the athletes was pretty bizarre. The same tenure forgiveness doesn’t apply to Collingwood’s republican president Eddie McGuire, who was at the dinner but really should bow out as the longest-serving AFL club boss, particularly after his latest blokey foot-in-mouth performance about Fairfax football writer Caroline Wilson.
The black-tie Olympic dinner was a welcome break from the intense Menzies campaign, which gets right down to business with the first candidates forum tonight from 7.30pm at the Doncaster Church of Christ, 680 Doncaster Road.
All eight blokes in the field have agreed to attend and we’re expecting a full house, along with some media.
The donations are continuing to flow, and we’ve now hit the 100 mark for individual contributions, totalling more than $32,000, all of which have been disclosed on this online register.
Kevin Andrews has never had to fight for Menzies before and he doesn’t appear to have a lot of local support. As AAP reported on Friday, he’s personally handing out at the main early voting centre every day and even resorted to personally hammering over one of our “Fake Liberal” signs last Thursday morning, a story that Julie Bishop had quite clearly read when we chatted on Saturday night.
Brandishing a hammer doing something naughty at a major intersection to avoid being pushed into early retirement and a $280,000 indexed pension for life is a long way down from being Tony Abbott’s defence minister just 12 months ago.
*City of Melbourne paid $30,000 for a table at the Olympic fundraiser, which raised $2.5 million for the Olympic team. Cr Stephen Mayne was not paid for this item.