It was modestly billed as “a barbecue and a few drinks among friends”, though it was hardly just a slab of VB and a few snags in the backyard.
As part of Scott Morrison’s US State visit in September last year, Australia’s ambassador Joe Hockey laid on an afternoon garden party at his Washington residence for 350 VIPs representing business, politics and showbiz across both nations.
Now documents obtained by The New Daily reveal Australian taxpayers picked up the full $45,650 tab for the event, including $7690 for “entertainment” and another $25,469 for catering and security. The bill also includes around $13,000 in set-up costs.
But the guest list is being kept secret.
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) was coy about who attended the garden party, refusing to hand over the invite list for the event on the basis it would “adversely affect Australia’s international relations with the United States of America”.
“There is sensitivity in releasing the guest list, to do so would reveal the government officials and private sector representatives whose attendance was accommodated by the [Australian] Embassy,” DFAT said in response to a Freedom of Information request asking for a list of attendees.
“I consider that those who attended, including foreign official and public and private sector representatives, would have an expectation that their attendance and personal information would be handled with confidence and not made publicly available.
“I therefore consider that the public disclosure of this guest list would adversely affect Australia’s international relations with the United States of America, as well as with other countries.”
DFAT’s defensive response and refusal comes despite the names of dozens of attendees already being published by US media.
According to Politico, Mr Hockey’s guests included a host of Washington power players such as U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, deputy secretary of state John Sullivan and U.S. Ambassador to Australia Arthur B. Culvahouse.
Australian business moguls Anthony Pratt, Andrew Forrest, Kerry Stokes and Gina Rinehart were also reportedly at the event, along with Macquarie Group boss Shemara Wikramanayake and Rio Tinto CEO Jean-Sébastien Jacques.
The White House has also been relaxed about releasing the guest list for its own official events.
The names of 175 dignitaries who attended the gala dinner Donald Trump put on for Scott Morrison the previous day has already been provided to U.S. media in full.
Among the famous faces at Mr Trump’s gathering were golfer Greg Norman, celebrity chef Curtis Stone, former New York City mayor and current Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani and former secretary of state Henry Kissinger.
DFAT’s reluctance to release a list of Mr Hockey’s garden party guests comes amid growing concerns over government secrecy in Australia, with FOI requests regularly turned down for spurious reasons.
In November, Scott Morrison copped criticism for refusing to say if he had sought an invitation for controversial Hillsong pastor Brian Houston to join the U.S. trip and subsequently blocked numerous FOI requests for details of the alleged invitation.
As with the garden party guest list, Mr Morrison’s office cited section 33a of the FOI Act as the reason for withholding information about Brian Houston’s invitation, an exemption that cites possible damage to international relations.
Just last week, Mr Morrison’s office also blocked FOI requests for copies of Barnaby Joyce’s drought envoy reports — which Mr Joyce says he sent to Mr Morrison by text message — arguing it would be too “time-consuming” for the prime minister to find the messages on his phone.
What was on the menu?
While Mr Hockey’s garden party was dominated by American invitees, the menu had a distinctly Aussie flavour.
Food and drink lists for the event show attendees chowed down on a selection of Down Under favourites including Australian beef fillets, meat pies, sausage rolls and chicken schwarma, while those with a more adventurous palette could enjoy “Lamb, Vegemite and Cheese Sausage on Milk Bun”, “Lobster Arancini, Creme Fraiche and Smoked Salmon Caviar Panella” or “Butter Chicken Sausage with Pickled Fennel”.
Lamingtons were wheeled out for dessert (of course), served with cream cheese and raspberries.
All the beer and wine was sourced from Australia too, with guests offered a wide choice of liquid refreshments including Little Creatures beer, Giant Steps Pinot Noir and Shaw and Smith Sauvignon Blanc.
DFAT defended the costs of Mr Hockey’s garden party by saying the event was intended to promote trade between Australian and the U.S.
“The event was designed to showcase Australian products and produce. This, together with the logistics of organising and facilitating a large diplomatic event, is reflected in the total costs,” DFAT said.
Joe Hockey’s Garden Party menu
Australian Beef Fillet, Horseradish, Challah
Zucchini and Goat Cheese Fritters
Chicken Schwarma and Cucumber Raita
Kale, Farro and Mint and Green Peas
Lobster Arancini, Creme Fraiche and Smoked Salmon Caviar Panella, Romesco, Basil
Whipped Ricotta, Peach, Bresola
Crab, Brioche, Chipotle
Meat Pies and Sausage Rolls
Mexican Sausages with Guacamole Taco
Lamb Sausages with Tzatziki and Cilantro
Pork Sausage, Provolone, Truffle and Aioli
Butter Chicken Sausage with Pickled Fennel
Lamb, Vegemite and Cheese Sausage on Milk bun
Lamingtons with Cream Cheese and Raspberries
Beer and wine
Little Creatures beer
Cascade Premium beer
The Scribbler Red
Syn Cuvee Sparkling White
Black Chook Sparkling Red
Shaw and Smith Sav Blanc
Blanc Penfold Chardonnay 311
Pikes Eastside Shiraz
Giant Steps Pinot Noir
Yalumba Y-Series Rose