Dates With Australian Politicians Auctioned Off on eBay

Fancy a drink with the Australian prime minister or an intimate dinner with his political rival?

Access to the two Australian leaders is up for grabs to anyone with deep enough pockets.

Prime Minister John Howard and Opposition Leader Kevin Rudd have agreed to be listed on eBay in the name of charity, with bids starting at $2,500.

The listing also hints at the timing of the federal election, with Howard apparently confident of being able to play host in the Prime Minister's residence, The Lodge, in November.

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One winning bidder and a friend will join Howard at the prime minister's XI cricket match at Manuka Oval in November, as well as a reception for both cricket teams at his Canberra residence the night before.

The highest bidder for Rudd, meanwhile, will be invited to bring six friends to dinner with the Labor leader and another "surprise'' politician in Parliament House.

The auction is being run in conjunction with the annual Federal Parliamentary Press Gallery Midwinter Ball, held in Canberra on June 20.

The lions' share of money raised from the auction and the ball, which is expected to top $125,000, will be given to the Burns Foundation Australia.

Press Gallery president Karen Middleton said the charity had been chosen after the Garuda Airlines crash in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, in which 21 people died.

Journalist Morgan Mellish and diplomat Liz O'Neill were among five Australians killed when the Boeing 747-400 caught fire after overshooting the runway on March 7, while gallery journalist Cynthia Banham was seriously burnt.

"The gallery wanted to help a charity that specializes in dealing with the impact of such terrible disasters,'' Middleton said.

SurfAid Australia, RSPCA and Marymead Child and Family Centre will also benefit.

The online auction, which also includes a package of Qantas international flights, closes on June 20, 2007.

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