The latest Budget row is over access to IVF treatments. Even Liberal women have become involved in the debate, with the NSW Liberal Women’s Council voting to condemn the measure. How about people who follow politics voting to condemn the charades indulged by senior ministers and the media each year in the lead-up to Budget day.

The IVF issue suddenly appeared onInsiderson Sunday during a broad discussion of the Budget parameters:

BARRY CASSIDY: On the question of sustainability, the IVF program costs around $7,000 a time, unlimited access is available at the moment. Is that something you will look at?

PETER COSTELLO: The thing about IVF, and I wouldn’t see this in a financial sense, this is not a financial issue. There is a lot of debate about the medical outcomes. What is the optimal medical outcome? There is no point in giving treatments where there is a very, very low chance of success and so there has been a lot of clinical discussion as to what the best chances of success are and taxpayers dollars ought to be directed towards those. That’s something that the Government looks at. Obviously we actually looked at it first back in 1996 to be frank, and it’s something that the clinicians and Health Department always have under scrutiny.

Tell us that question wasn’t planted!

The Treasurer opened on Insiders with an overview of the Budget: “I think this Budget will be all about sustainability. It will be sustainable economic growth continuing. We have had a long economic cycle and it’s our aim to keep that going so that we can continue to reduce unemployment. Sustainability in terms of expenditures so that in 10, 20, 30 and 40 years time the kind of decisions we make now will set Australia up for the great change which is coming on our society, the aging of the population, sustainability in respect of the environment and the use of our resources and energy. I would like to see this very much as a budget that projects from the current time out through what we believe the great structural challenge, the aging of the population, out through that in 10, 20, 30 and 40 years time”.

The whole damn thing is finalised. It’s just that a softening-up process is going on, as it does every year – worse case scenarios are being floated so the final Budget doesn’t look so bad, ambit claims are staked and truly controversial measures, like the Medicare Safety Net backflip, are got out of the way separately, before the big day.

IVF is a great topic for debate. A great distraction, in other words, for another issue – why do we wage this war of ambit claims? Why are political MacGuffins trotted out in the Budget lead-up? And why does the media chase them? The prime minister, the treasurer, the finance minister and other senior Cabinet members know what’s in their Budget. Why indulge them by helping them set their spin in motion by playing guessing games, turning Budget decisions into old news before they are actually announced?

A better question for Insiders might have been: “Treasurer, you know what’s in the Budget. Why are you wasting our time by scattering red herrings everywhere?”