PwC fundraiser fiasco looms large over quiet budget night festivities

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It felt like only five minutes ago when Treasurer Jim Chalmers was up delivering his fake October budget.

This time, it’s the real deal – historically difficult economic times, a Parliament House budget tree in all its fiery glory, Canberra’s icy autumnal bite back, and an actual surplus to boot.

But for the purposes of CBD, fixated on the “fun” side of politics, it was another subdued affair, lacking the glitterati sparkle of budget nights past.

That is unless you count Labor luminaries like former Treasurer Wayne Swan (who’s Chalmers’ old boss), and ex-Queensland Premier turned Australian Banking Association boss Anna Bligh, and former NSW Premier Nathan Rees. Departing Australian National University vice-chancellor Brian Schmidt also made a quiet, later arrival.

But this is Labor, a party that prefers to do its hobnobbing with the big end of town behind closed doors.

Still, some of that hobnobbing is now the subject of public fury, with a PwC fundraiser fiasco still looming large over the standard budget night festivities.

CBD made no attempt to hide its disappointment on Tuesday at the withdrawal of the embattled consulting giant as a sponsor of Labor’s $5000-a-head election night shindig at Canberra’s Hotel Realm, where Treasurer Jim Chalmers was the headline act. And we were haunted by the question of whether the firm jumped or was pushed, as fingers wagged over the appropriateness of that sponsorship.

PwC, whose chief executive Tom Seymour stepped down late on Monday (although he remains at the firm) amid the scandal over the firm’s use of confidential ATO information to sell advice to clients, is adamant it pulled the pin on the weekend. All part, we hear, of a broader strategy of keeping a low profile, although it still remains unclear if words were had between Labor and the firm behind the scenes.

So that was that. No cheery corporate branding at the Realm on the night, and no attendance by PwC personnel. So what happens to all those empty seats? For less swanky affairs, a legion of government staffers would be conscripted to help take the bare look off the room.

But the Federal Labor Business forum had a lengthy waiting list for tickets to the budget night event and nobody CBD spoke to thought organisers would have any trouble putting bums on empty seats.

We asked Labor senator Deb O’Neill – who unearthed the internal PwC emails that turbocharged the scandal last week – if she was disappointed not to be sharing a room with a bunch of the firm’s executives – many of whom the senator wants to see sacked over the leaks, a stance that hasn’t been softened by Seymour’s departure.

“I’ll always speak with every person who wants to work with me in the national interest,” she said diplomatically.


The mood was a little less awkward next door at the National Press Club for the budget “stand up” event. We’re told it’s being pitched as a less formal, “fun” budget party, with a turnout of lobbyists and government relations types. Given booze giants Endeavour are sponsoring the affair in the form of a rather ample bar tab, we reckon there might be something to that.

But budget night festivities aren’t only for the privileged few.

Over in the cabinet suite of parliament’s ministerial wing, a “thank you” shindig for overworked staffers and departmental mandarins who’ve been burning the midnight oil preparing the budget papers kicked off from 8.30, with the Treasurer booked in to swing by and show his gratitude.

And over in the public galleries, which were overbooked for Chalmers’ speech, it was a big night for the hordes of true believers who’d managed to score tickets.


It’s fair to say oppositions struggle for relevance during budget week.

And it sounds like Peter Dutton was lucky to have made it to Canberra at all for budget day after some travel dramas delayed the opposition leader’s arrival in the capital from his Brisbane base – and for once Qantas isn’t to blame.

Dutton spent much of Monday stranded in the Queensland capital as wild weather lashing the East Coast kept his Canberra flight – along with many others – grounded, eventually arriving “just before dinnertime”, his people tell us.


While most of the Coalition’s henchpeople were busy digging for dirt in the budget papers, the Liberals’ junior partner was taking things a little easier. By 6pm, the Nationals had already started drinking in their party room. CBD even caught a faint whiff of cigarette smoke in the corridor outside, although we won’t be pointing any fingers.

Some in the Coalition certainly made a day of it. LNP Senator Matt Canavan and MP Keith Pitt pledged their commitment to the resources sector by carrying lumps of coal around Parliament House like naughty children at Christmas.

“It’s a coal-fired surplus,” Canavan said, telling anyone interested that they could rub the coal for good luck. To be fair, that did work for Scott Morrison once upon a time. Remember him?

Labor turncoat and anti-Voice campaigner Warren Mundine certainly got excited, dashing out from Aussies Cafe, where he’d been loitering among the lobbyists to get a look at the coal.

Ross Gittins unpacks the economy in an exclusive subscriber-only newsletter every Tuesday evening. Sign up to receive it here.

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