Always beware when journalists write that the story is that there is no story. But even so, this year’s Budget has so far been noticeable for the lack of leaks or even plants by the Government. They’ve previewed a few nasties, yes, but otherwise it’s been a tough time for mainstream journalists. The Government has kept things very tight indeed.
As a result, journalists have had to make do with either speculation about the size of its spending cuts and the likely surplus number, or use whatever they can lay their hands on. The Government’s election commitments (all costed in detail by the Department of Finance before the election), which we’ve been repeatedly assured will delivered in full, have therefore been closely examined and offered up as budget revelations.
Some journalists quickly realised the flipside of this, that anything not promised at the election might be in play – that’s where the carers’ and aged payments story came from, bolstered by the robotic rigidity with which Government spokespeople declared that no-one would find out until the Budget. And acerbic statements from Ministers along the lines of “they won’t like it” – which really don’t add much to the Prime Minister John Wayne-like intonation that the Budget is “tough as all hell” – have been dressed up into pseudo-leaks.
Even journalists on the drip feed from the Government have had cause to complain. Official leaks have amounted to old announcements reheated in the Ministerial Microwave, with the occasional Treasury background brief chucked in as a sort of pointer to what the Government is hoping to achieve.
At a Wayne Swan press conference yesterday, held outside in the increasingly sub-arctic Canberra cold, journalists resorted to trying to trick Swan into giving away figures that would enable a fair stab at the size of the surplus. To the chagrin of the shivering horde, he wasn’t playing.
Today, Sky News was reporting – not exactly breathlessly, to be fair – that the Prime Minister had revealed the savings obtained from the efficiency dividend levied on Commonwealth departments. Such information is probably of great moment to Commonwealth bureaucrats, but likely to draw snores from the rest of the populace. Thin gruel indeed for hungry hacks.
Maybe the weekend will bring some scoops, either drip-fed or the real thing. Given how focussed this Government is on media management, there is assuredly a clear plan behind the tight rein being kept on Budget information.
It’s just that, as for the details of the Budget itself, no-one’s really sure what it is yet.