Not since Richard Torbay’s referral to the Independent Commission Against Corruption has political fundraising in Armidale caused such a fuss.
On Monday morning, the president of the Liberal party’s Northern Tablelands state electorate conference, James Ellis, hosted a breakfast at the Armidale Bowling Club.
The star attraction was NSW energy minister Chris Hartcher. Attendees were charged the modest ticket price of $40 per head, with breakfast thrown in.
The event was significant enough for the local paper, the Armidale Express, to send cadet reporter Samantha-Jo Harris to cover.
But things turned decidedly ugly when Harris made the fateful decision to devour a plate of bacon, eggs, sausage and tomato placed in front of her while listening to Mr Hartcher’s speech on regional energy and resource policy.
Harris says no-one took umbrage at the time but clearly Mr Ellis was not impressed, firing off a terse email to her boss, Express editor Lydia Roberts.
“I had guaranteed that you would not be invoiced for the cost of the ticket to the breakfast for your journalist attending, on the condition that she would be there to get the story,” Mr Ellis wrote.
“She was the only journalist in attendance. I don’t think you relayed this to Samantha as she was served breakfast and did not refuse it.”
The problem, Mr Ellis explained, was that the Liberals “had paid for strictly 40 seats at this event. Everyone paid – including senior cabinet ministers who were present (as this was a fundraiser). This meant that I forwent a meal so that somebody else wouldn’t”.
In an apparent attempt to extract some benefit for his foregone breakfast, Mr Ellis concluded: “I trust that this breakfast will get a good write up in Wednesday’s edition of the Express?”
Mr Ellis – who last year ran unsuccessfully for a spot on Armidale Dumaresq council and rejoices in the Twitter handle @jamesdoesitbeta – told Fairfax Media the email was “done in a tongue in cheek way” and wasn’t a serious complaint.
“I went and had some breakfast at home when I left,” he explained. “So that was good”.
For her part, Harris said the breakfast was simply too enormous to manage: “I think I left about half on the plate”.
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