It was Paul Keating who said that if you needed a friend in Canberra you should get a dog.
Malcolm Turnbull might have remembered that advice at last Wednesday’s Press Gallery Mid-Winter Ball when he, no doubt rashly advised, chose to parody POTUS Trump, meanwhile forgetting that, in Canberra your friends are not your friends and your enemies are your enemies.
There has been a long-term convention that speeches, even conversations, that occur at the Mid-Winter Ball are off the record, that Chatham House rules apply, but these are usually more honoured in the breach. It was at the last big press gallery bash that your correspondent attended, a Christmas do many aeons ago, that Paul Keating made his famous ‘Placido Domingo’ speech, pungent with black Irish wit, in which he lambasted the gallery – to their delight. “They come in to talk and their beady eyes go around the room, looking for all the Second Empire clocks” he chortled.
That Keating speech was also leaked and by the same nefarious and calculating method as befell Mr Turnbull. An attendee sends the details to a non-attendee (last Wednesday it was the venerable doyen of the Gallery, Laurie Oakes, aka the Sphere of Influence) who then writes the story. Once in the public domain the rest of the media can fall on the story, add their own embellishments and publish.
The acting US envoy, Mr Caruso, was in attendance and no doubt manfully kept his smile in place as his President was parodied, to roars of laughter “The Donald and I we are winning in the polls… so easy to win…I have this Russian guy…” The US embassy issued a statement on Thursday maintaining it was all in the spirit of good fun and the spirit of the Ball. “We understand that last night’s event is equivalent to our White House Correspondents’ Dinner. We take this with the good humour that was intended.” ANZUS holds.
Former prime minister Tony Abbot wisely refrained from attending the Ball, and, after a session in the Parliament House gym (yes, of course they have one), retired early.
The Turnbull speech zipped around news reports around the world and the Prime Minister, on being questioned, responded that next Mid-Winter Ball, he would read from the Parliamentary Hansard record.
He forgot one important qualifier.
That’s if he’s still PM then.
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