Those who say “why bother, the budget lock-up is an outdated ritual” are mostly right. There is never really market sensitive information available these days, and most of the key points have been public for weeks.
There’s plenty of bad aspects — no decent coffee, a fog of cigarette smoke in the upstairs men’s toilets as the assembled nicotine addicts defy the parliamentary smoking ban, a football scrum exit as the doors open at 7.30pm, with mike stands and TV cameras strategically wielded by the crews to break their way through to the front.
But this year there was a good part: Treasury handed out the budget documents in neat little carry-bags. No more teetering piles of budget papers spilling onto the floor as you jostled through the doorways, key papers lost or forgotten — just a jaunty swing of a cloth bag. Cheers for public-sector innovation.
The main purpose of the lock-up, of course, is to keep journalists and commentators captive so they can be force-fed the government message before opposition or interest groups get in the way.
The Treasurer makes his rounds of the media (concentrating on television) and holds a press conference mid-way through the lock-up — this year, more subdued than usual. It looked like he’d rehearsed how to present this one low-key to avoid any impression of smugness or triumphalism. Given how much he was spending, this was probably not a bad idea.