Expenses scandal: A minister in the marquee worth a tent-full of D-list celebs

Want to know the most widely published, non-equine photo of the recent Melbourne Cup Carnival? It didn't feature celebrity guest Scott Eastwood, son of Clint, nor perennial society fixture Jennifer Hawkins.

It was the moment Foreign Minister Julie Bishop had a brief tete-a-tete with mining magnate and social recluse Gina Rinehart.

At the time, Ms Bishop told this reporter the value of attending events such as the Melbourne Cup.

"It's all part of the job," she said.

"Being at the Cup is the most fantastic networking opportunity – everyone in Australia you want to see is there."

Now, in the wake of Ms Bishop's admission she charged taxpayers $2716 to show up at last year's Portsea Polo, politicians' going to the races or the footy finals – and who pays for them to get there – is under scrutiny.

A former senior government adviser said there was a value in politicians being in the same room (or tent) as the nation's business leaders.

He said the opportunity for "soft lobbying" was highly valuable.

Politicians, he said, usually get to see the guest list so they know who will likely target them for a "pull aside", diplo-speak for a quiet chat.

But he questioned the value of an event such as the polo, which is generally regarded as more purely social in nature and doesn't attract the same calibre of guest as, say, the races or the football.

"Every time their photo gets taken there'd be a portion of the public who [would] question it," he said.

Judy Romano's firm, Romano Beck, looks after the guest list for Emirates at Flemington and was responsible for the VIP guest list at last year's Portsea Polo.

Ms Romano said the social side of major events was invaluable to the politician, other guests and, of course, the sponsors.

"Julie Bishop ... will work the room, she will talk about political issues and not shy away from them. She is so approachable," Ms Romano said.

"She's very glamorous but she is one of the people."

"When you say you have Julie Bishop on your guest list, you can be excited – it's so powerful," Ms Romano said.

"[Emirates] is one of the sponsors that attracts the big wheels – it's not just the fluffy D-list celebrities. It's where deals are done."

Ms Bishop was due to attend this Saturday's event as a guest of the sponsor, Alfa Romeo. On Wednesday morning, organisers were unable to provide an update on her attendance.

The former adviser said it could look like an admission of wrongdoing if Ms Bishop was to pull out of the event amid the current scandal.

He said if she is to attend, she'd probably be making sure she pays for the trip in full out of her own pocket, regardless of whether she's doing legitimate government business by attending.

Sources told Fairfax Media that Ms Bishop's claim last year, including $2177 on flights, $416 on car travel and the standard $123 travel allowance, likely did not include accommodation as her partner, David Panton, owns a property on the Mornington Peninsula where they were likely staying that weekend.

Ms Bishop's office said in response to the revelations: "The Minister was invited and attended in her official capacity as Minister for Foreign Affairs and Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party."

Lucille McCart, whose firm Hausmann Communications does the guest list for Mumm at Flemington said politicians often attend major events to keep up relations with foreign companies. And then there's their star power.

"A lot of politicians have become like celebrities these days.

"When Julie Bishop and Bill Shorten came into the marquee they got mobbed, almost more than any of the celebrities in there."

The story Expenses scandal: A minister in the marquee worth a tent-full of D-list celebs first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.