More out of habit than sound reason, a couple of hundred journalists and sundries will consent to being locked up tomorrow afternoon to peruse Peter Costello’s latest budget – although, in a churlish display of small mindedness, Crikey’s operatives are again excluded.

But the reality is that the Budget lock-up grapes aren’t particularly sweet these days anyway. More than enough of its contents have been leaked or pre-announced to make the exercise more one of style than substance.

In broad economic terms, we know there will be a few billion in tax cuts, a few billion in extra spending and a few billion for the future fund. The only surprise would be a hint of some sort of significant tax reform, but that’s against the trend of the softening up. Save that for the election year.

The main exercise for the assembled hacks will be to come up with the best headline to summarise the occasion. Given the nature of the main giveaways – child care and defence/Nauru/spooks – we’ll be looking at variations on The Eddy Groves’ Budget, The Law and Border Budget, The Guns ‘n’ Babies Budget, The Unprotected Sex Please Budget, The Nauru Rendition Special, etc. After that, it’s all pretty much downhill.

The areas that are effective admissions of the Howard/Costello government’s failure – the attempts to play catch-up in education and infrastructure spending – there will be plenty of spin to attempt to paper over the gross failure. The spending on new training places for doctors, for example, is only because the federal governments of the past two decades have been wilfully negligent in providing for the nation’s future manpower requirements. As usual, the government is promising today to solve yesterday’s problem tomorrow.

Ditto the motza to be promised and re-announced for national highways. Ditto the defence spend – ever since we had the rude shock of discovering we couldn’t handle East Timor on our own.

The details of the child-care spend might be interesting, but I’d tip it will be more piecemeal than the result of a clear overhaul of policy and priorities that the area needs. Seeing Eddy Groves turn up on 60 Minutes last night might help keep the public sceptical.

As well they should be.

CRIKEY: Anyone who wants to protest the Treasurer’s churlish decision to lock out Crikey from the lock-up can email Peter Costello’s press secretary, David Alexander, at [email protected].