Fun it may be, but locking up journos is pointless
We knew something was up when the party pies ran out. There was a whiff of the end of times that the cheap percolated coffee couldn’t quite hide.
And so it came to pass. The state Budget lock up was no more.
South Australia – first state to give women the vote, to ban plastic bags and forbid groups of people who ride motorcycles from hanging out together, has now become the first state to lose the lock up.
Treasurer Kevin Foley announced yesterday that the latest Budget lock up was the last one. From now on there’ll just be a bog-standard embargo, lifted with the Treasurer’s speech.
The lock ups – state and Federal – are strange traditions. Journalists are herded into a windowless room, stripped of communication devices and forced to spend hours with Treasury wonks and peering press secretaries.
The lock up was conceived as a way to stop keen investors using the information to profit before the unwashed masses got a look in, but it evolved into a neat way to confine journos to a controlled environment and help everyone stay “on message”.
Most of the people outside of the media business don’t give a shit how the lock up works, which goes to show it’s probably a completely irrelevant artifice. But we still don’t know exactly what measures will replace it.
The Federal lock up is a sombre affair. Hundreds of journalists churn out reams of copy based on what’s in the thousands of pages of documents, the lobby groups come out for their 30 seconds of ranting. Then the Treasury nerds open the doors.
Websites and the wires flood with the outlook for the next year or three, while hacks-in-training fret they may have missed something. Billions are spent, lives are changed, and the journos and the pollies flee into a chilly Canberran night for good food and too much wine, then the cheap cheesiness of the Holy Grail, to get seedy and sodden before the red-eye flights leave the next morning.
That federal charade, for now, looks set to continue.
State Budgets – SA’s at least – are much more casual affairs. Everyone knows each other well enough to elbow their way to the front of the quiche queue, and to point fingers when the hot food runs out.
Gasps of surprise are rare as most good news in the Budget has been “leaked” in the previous weeks – if you can call a press release with quotes included a leak.
The time passes quickly with Powerpoint displays complete with soft-cock-rock soundtracks, a cameo by Premier Mike Rann (prompting a round of rapturous applause from the minders), a limping press conference.
Journos intersperse knowing nods and skeptical frowns as the television cameras pan across them.
Before you know it you’re blinking in the sunshine and staggering under the weight of Budget papers as you lug them back to the office.
By which stage the thing is practically put to bed, laid out, shot for the 5 o’clock news. It’s done. With hardly a chance to delve into the details.
By the time the Opposition put together its reply this year, no one really cared. The response was whispered into thin air then upstaged by an unrelated stoush.
The process works very well for the Government, which begs the question of just how they plan to control the process in future if the lock-ups end.
Don’t for a minute think they’re going to step back, let the wily media have their way with their carefully crafted Budget papers.
It would be a shocking lapse in the regime if they were to just give us all the papers at the beginning of the day, with hours of luxurious time to prod and poke through them.
I think it’s far more likely we’ll see the papers arrive late-ish in the day, followed very quickly by a press conference, with just enough time to squeeze out stories before the Budget Speech is given.
Same stress, same rushed job, but no party pies.
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