God, oh god, I woke up in a field.

OK in a motel out of town, in a field. Horses and shit, the works. Last thing I remember I was at the Holy Grail, talking to some gorgeous radio reporter, with sultry dark skin and eyes like limpid pools, and Bob Ellis. We had picked up Ellis in Aussie’s and transported him thus, and with me and an equally hefty advisor of Tanya Plibersek’s in the back, the car weighed about 4000 kilograms.

Like the conclusion of O Lucky Man, where every character in the entire film ends up at a big party, the Holy Grail is the Canberra gulley trap towards which the entire personnel of the city eventually swirls. Three hours earlier, the 500 or so journos, lobbyists, advisors and hangers-on had streamed out of the lock-up, with the full budget print out, the nation’s future source of mulch, in dark blue showbags — which, given the future of journalism, most will keep and use for years.

Then began the ineffably strange ritual of the chook feed, as before a line of cameras and 30 or so hand-held mikes, everyone from Joe Hockey to the PR flack for the accountants’ peak body in no particular order, lined up to give their 90 seconds of soundbite. Somewhere between an open call for kitchen staff at Pancake Parlour, and the payday queue at a Tijuana cat-house, the roll-call is a conspiracy between the media, which needs easy feed, and the lobbyists and touts who have had their soundbite prepared for days.

Some of course are born to it — Heather Ridout took the full five minutes, like a headlining comedian who needed to be hooked off. All she needed was a grand piano to sit on and we would have got a full vamp rendition of I’m Still Here. Still, she’s a glam girl who looks like she knew how to have a good time once. Joe Hockey could barely get between the pillars — someone’s got to put a spigot in him, there’s your water crisis solved right away.

Your correspondent threw in a couple of questions, but for sheer lunar madness, he was beaten to a standing start by Bill Heffernan, who was doing some sort of performance art piece, hanging round the back of the pack and yelling things about “rural children” and “what about the wheat trains” as if he had been paid by the Australia Council to just be himself for six months and then get on a plane to the Venice Biennale.

Simultaneously Wayne Swan, that Kevin Rudd factory second, was giving the goods to the nation as a whole — budget for growth, infrastructure, cetera cetera — boldly sailing into the uncharted waters of a $60 billion deficit. Sixty billion. Didn’t we used to worry about like $8 billion deficits the last we had a Labo-, the last time we had deficits? Weird, man.

Still the hardest thing for the government seems to be explaining the whole principle of deficit financing for growth, and the consequences of not doing so.

“My great grandchildren’ll be paying down this debt,” the cabbie had said, after I’d gone to buy a $29 suit jacket from Target after a stern-talking on dress code to by a press gallery stooge.

“How much do you owe on your house?”

“Bout two hundred grand.”

“So you earn what, 40 a year, so you’re carrying a debt load 500% of your GDP. If you were a country you’d be Zimbabwe, looked at that way. But actually isn’t debt the thing we use to make our lives better?”

He thought for a second.

“Yeah but my grandkids’ll still be paying this de-urrrrrgg …” as I stabbed him through the back of the neck with my propeller pencil. In my imagination.

Then the chook feed, then the speech, then to the Holy Grail. God knows why the issuing of an annual financial statement gives you the urge to drink a bucket of bad red, but there it is. The Grail was having a trivia night, its management seemingly unaware that the whole city was about to descend on them, and drink the cellar dry.

While Ellis tried to convince me that Bob Carr was our lost philosopher king — a position I’d be more amenable to if in 10 years of rule, he’d managed to integrate the Sydney public transport ticketing system, just an example — I was patiently explaining to economist John Quiggin the eternal truth of Marxian economics, and how a bloke in the UK had calculated the tendency of the rate of profit to fall down to three decimal places, which would allow him to predict the revolution to within an afternoon. Quiggin has spent too much time being a world standard economist to understand the Truth, and I left him a reading list.

Got home somehow. I think a Liberal staffer who hates Crikey for something we said about her drove me back to the motel, though as the city peeled away to reveal bushland, the suspicion that she was really really p-ssed off and had a newly bought shovel in the boot started to dawn. Then I forget, then it was morning and we were all back in parliament again.

If anyone wonders why the Australian political class displays groupthink, Canberra might be the answer.

Then just as we were getting into our hangovers, two bloody greens abseiled down the front of Parliament House and unfurled a 10-metre “Carbon Budget Blowout” banner, which hung proudly for about five minutes before ripping down one side, presumably due to its being made of recycled material. Finally it got caught on the bottom of the emu on the coat of arms, which may have been the plan all along.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey