Anyone who thought excessive security paranoia died with the Howard Government should think again based on today’s 80-minute wait to get 550 hacks into the budget lock-up.

We turned up right on 1.30pm and there were already about 300 journalists queued up and proceeding at a pace that would make Qantas proud.

Bernard Keane joined the queue and made it through the miserable two security screens an hour later, whilst I insisted on being last and finally joined the throng at 2.50pm.

Memo to Wayne Swan: open the doors at 12.30am next year and then distribute the budget papers at 1.30pm.

The delay turned out to be a boon because it presented a unique opportunity to film many of the doyens and dropkicks of the Australian media. Check out the Crikey video we’ve put together in tomorrow’s edition.

The likes of Seven’s Mark Reilly and SMH pictorial editor Mike Bowers were happy to perform for our cameras but those ABC types really are paranoid as we were knocked back by Kerry O’Brien, Lateline Business presenter Ali Moore and The 7.30 Report’s Heather Ewart.

The nation’s leading editors were the most camera shy. The Australian’s Mark Whittacker and The AFR’s Glen Burge offered their backs on sighting our camera, whilst we got a rather dirty scowl from Piers Akerman as he chatted away to Tim Blair and his long-suffering Daily Telegraph editor Dave Pemberthy, who was the only editor who fronted Swan’s press conference a couple of hours later.

With Swan not set to perform for the cameras at his press conference until 4pm, it was largely the snappers and TV crews who brought up the rear, along with Kerry O’Brien and Terry McCrann who clearly needs less time in political captivity than everyone else to produce his pearls for 2 million readers of the News Ltd tabloids.

The security gates were clearly turned up to maximum as many hacks, including Bernard, had to do a Michael Somare for the government and take off their shoes. On getting through the gates, a youthful Treasury official offered up a Liberal blue bag festooned with “Budget 08-09”, the southern cross, the Australian government crest and the URL, www.budget.gov.au.

The only thing confiscated was the mobile phone and on arriving inside committee room 1R1, which often hosts Senate Estimates hearings, a cheerful Treasury official offered up the full 40 megabyte budget on a memory stick and we knuckled down for an afternoon of information overload.

Our room included many of the gallery tiddlers. To the immediate right was legal newsletter CCH with Bloomberg to the left and the likes of AAP also in the room.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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