The Federal Parliamentary Press Gallery Committee has formally protested Crikey’s lock-out from the Budget lock-up this afternoon.

The Gallery Committee unanimously endorsed a letter that was hand delivered to Treasurer Peter Costello’s office by Gallery President Karen Middleton yesterday. The letter reads:

We are unaware of any reasonable grounds upon which your decision is based.

Crikey representative Christian Kerr applied for Press Gallery membership several years ago and, after due consideration, was approved.

In assessing his application, the Press Gallery Committee followed the usual procedures and found he met the criteria for membership. He was issued a pass…

I understand that your Government’s explanation is that the Budget contains sensitive information and that lock-up access is limited.

The sensitivity of the information is managed by the very existence of the lock-up. Were they to be admitted, Crikey’s representatives would be subject to exactly the same restrictions and embargo as everyone else.

Given that you admit hundreds of people to the lock-up every year, including dozens per single newspaper, it is unclear why there would not be room for two people from an organisation which advertises a daily readership of 45,000 people and claims the status of Australia’s largest online subscriber publication.

I further understand that the only other reason given for rejecting Crikey’s applicants is that the decision ‘is in accordance with the criteria set down by the Treasurer’.

I would be grateful if your office would provide the Press Gallery Committee with a written copy of these criteria so Gallery members may be aware of the basis upon which their applications are judged.

In the absence of any further explanation of your decision, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that you have excluded Crikey simply because you don’t like what it publishes.

If this is the case, this is of considerable concern.

Press Gallery members regularly publish and broadcast news and commentary which make them unpopular, including sometimes with their own colleagues.

But this is not the basis upon which their membership is assessed and nor should it be the basis upon which their access to government information – available to everybody else – is determined.