MINUS the white gloves and corsage but with plenty of suitors, Kevin Rudd experienced something of a society debut yesterday when he broke bread with some of Sydney's wealthiest families.
The Prime Minister was the keynote speaker at the annual Sydney Cancer Centre Foundation luncheon, where he announced the Federal Government was donating $50 million to the centre, which encompasses Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, Concord Hospital and the University of Sydney.
And there was no clearer evidence of how cancer transcends the socio-economic divide than the gathering of silvertails and society types who turned up to meet the PM.
Guests had each shelled out $1000. Not only did they get to dine on "gently sealed scallops on cauliflower puree, beef tenderloin with a tombe of field mushrooms and a nougat glace", but they got to mingle with Mr Rudd, who appeared right at home within the swanky Guillaume restaurant at the Sydney Opera House.
According to annual rich lists, the collective value of the silvertails in the room was
estimated at $10 billion.
A conspicuous billionaire missing was Westfield chief Frank Lowy but he was waiting to meet Mr Rudd at North Sydney Oval in his position as head of Football Federation Australia.
At lunch, Mr Rudd was wedged between the likes of the billionaire matriarch Ros Packer, Multiplex heir Andrew Roberts, Caledonia Investments' Ian Darling, corporate identity Charles Curran, media mogul Paul Ramsay, Macquarie Bank's David Clarke, property magnate Denis O'Neil, stockbroker Peter Burrows, airport chief Max Moore-Wilton, cosmetics king and queen Michel-Henri and Julie Carriol, former Macquarie chief executive Tony Berg, Australian Stock Exchange director Russell Aboud and Lady Susan Atwill.
Evidently it was the first time Mr Rudd had met many of the Sydney "A"-listers, with Mrs Packer one of the first to make her way through the crowd to shake hands with the PM.
Ironically, Mr Rudd's $50 million gesture generated a round of applause but for many of his dining companions $50 million would barely register a blip on their financial radars. During lunch, the 100 guests coughed up $750,000 in donations, with one anonymous donor shelling out $500,000.
The money was music to the ears of Chris O'Brien, a director of the Sydney Cancer Centre Foundation and himself a cancer patient. He was diagnosed with a brain tumour 18 months ago and given six months to live.
Professor O'Brien, who found fame as a regular on the RPA television program, has undergone radiotherapy, chemotherapy and several operations since the diagnosis. He is in remission and recent test results have been clear.
"Our goal for the Sydney Cancer Centre is to give every patient the best chance of survival," he said.
After lunch, Mr Rudd met Mr Lowy and the Socceroos and Matildas mens' and women's soccer teams.
The former Liverpool star Harry Kewell, just off the plane from England, presented the Prime Minister with his own Socceroos shirt with the No.18 on the back. It wasn't "Kevin 07", but 18 signifed 2018, the year Australia hopes to host football's World Cup.
"No more injuries please, Harry, no injuries," Mr Rudd said to the multi-millionaire footballer.
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