With next week’s federal Budget looming as possibly Peter Costello’s last, Crikey’s attempt to report from inside the lock-up has been taken up by the Australian Democrats. Andrew Murray, the Democrats spokesman on tax, finance and corporate issues, has written to Costello, demanding answers on the treasurer’s churlish decision to ban Crikey from the lock-up.

The WA Senator was kind enough to send us a courtesy copy of the questions on notice after he sent them to Costello on Friday. Murray has asked the treasurer:

  1. To provide in writing the eligibility criteria used by the Government in its decision-making to determine media attendance at the 2004 and the 2005 Budget lock-up;
  2. To provide a definition of mainstream media;
  3. To provide a list of media outlets attending the 2005 Budget lock-up;
  4. To provide a list of Press Gallery members – members with Press Gallery accreditation – who have been excluded from the 2005 Budget lock-up;
  5. To outline why some staff members of Crikey.com.au gained accreditation to attend the 2004 Budget lock up, but none has not been granted access to the 2005 Budget lock-up.

Under current Senate Standing Orders, Murray has to be given an answer within 30 days of the question going on to the Notice Paper. So with the Budget eight days away, and given the conduct of Treasury during this exercise, we’re not holding our breath. But no doubt, some minion in Treasury will be asked to find some excuse – any excuse – to fob off the Senator. The paper trail alone will be interesting.

Murray has helpfully provided some background for the treasurer in considering the question of defining “mainstream media”: He asks Costello to “take into account the following extract from parliamentary secretary Peter McGuaran’s Second Reading Speech for the Broadcasting Services (Media Ownership) Bill 2002 on 21 March 2003”:

Technological progress and globalisation are changing the structure of the Australian media market and patterns of media consumption undeniably. Australian media organisations are responding to these changes by investing in new technology enterprises and forming broader strategic partnerships, but the regulation of ownership and control of Australian media has been largely static. This creates ongoing tension between the trend towards convergence in the communications market and a regulatory framework which is based on sector-specific regulation and an assumption that influential sources of news and opinion are limted to the traditional domestic media outlets… The government is committed to the need for ongoing diversity of opinion and information in the Australian media.

CRIKEY: There it is in writing – “the government is committed to the need for ongoing diversity of opinion and information in the Australian media”. But will the government, and its leader-in-waiting, be judged by its actions or its words?