“Will it be worth turning up tonight?” Alison Carrabine asked Wayne Swan at his Budget doorstop this morning, to audible laughter.

Damn good question, given much, or perhaps most, of the Budget had already been leaked. We can only hope for a few small surprises when Swan rises at 7.30pm. “Beer, cigs up,” hopefully. There is likely to be a big — $2b — clean energy splash, with (yet) more money for CCS and more money for solar, although the figure may be the usual Labor confection of 10% new money, 50% reheated announcements and the rest rephased funding.

The fevered speculation was continuing, however. It was Budget Eve, after all, which, if it no longer has the boom time feel of Christmas Eve, is the biggest night of the year for the governing class and the press. There’s a natural belief that endless debate about the contents of the document to be delivered by Wayne Swan is of interest to voters, although the more sensible reaction might be that they don’t care much and are content to wait 24 hours until the actual announcement.

Bear in mind amid all the speculation and, from 7.30pm, all the coverage, that we’re talking about a bunch of forecasts for what will happen over the next two years. Last year’s forecasts barely got out the door before being mugged by reality. This year may not fare much better. The retail and jobs figures from last week may prove to be not misleading indicators of a brief cash splash spike but harbinger of a shallower, shorter recession than feared and a relaunch of the China boom. Or we could all be going to hell in a handcart courtesy of the next financial sector collapse.

Regardless, everything will be poured over as if some combination of Holy Writ, new toy and dispatches from a far-off battle to see who will make it who won’t, who will get the cash and who won’t — and above all, who’s winning. Which side of politics, which interest group, which industry? This is Major Event politics, with Major Event-style coverage, much of it carefully stage-managed by Australia’s most image-conscious government.

Peter Fray

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