The second Tuesday in May usually means a budget lock-up for the media, an event closely resembling year 9 assembly apparently being necessary to read SECRET BUDGET DOCUMENTS five hours before the general public. With brutal-looking Parliament House security guards staring on, each scribbler was first asked for his or her mobile, with a simple “no” enough to bar entry.
Chrome-domed freshman Age editor Andrew Holden looked eager and excited to be there, in stark contrast to nearly everyone else who couldn’t believe this sad charade still exists in the 21st century, when the Australian government’s impact on global markets is precisely zero.
Inside the lock-up, The Conversation’s Michelle Grattan — no doubt chuffed by her masthead’s $2 million injection over two years revealed in the budget (henceforth known as the “Grattan tax”) and the Conversation Trust’s deductible gift recipient status (worth $1.8 million over the forward estimates) — was witnessed in friendly conversation with former Fairfax colleagues. Any lingering awkwardness over former Age editor Andrew Jaspan’s attacks on Fairfax overlord Greg Hywood were surely overridden by memories of past budget glories.
After getting filmed picking up Treasury’s 25-kilogram sack of fiscal shibboleths, Crikey found it had miraculously upgraded from its former hovel in 1R2 to the salubrious surrounds of 1R3, which featured Aunty luminaries like Fran Kelly rubbing shoulders with the stars of CNBC Asia. Sadly, the advertised presence of “2GB” in the room failed to produce western suburbs ranter Ray Hadley.
The first durry toilet suckdown occurred at the unprecedented time of 3.10pm, with fingers pointing firmly in the direction of News Limited’s cohort of flush-cheeked opinion warriors.
With any external communications attracting a two-year jail term, the tell-tale mobile phone text message noise repeatedly echoed around our room, prompting a menacing gaze from what looked to be a 12-year-old Treasury graduate overseeing the ugly scrum.
At one point, dapper ABC economics correspondent Stephen Long swooped on the Crikey food pile to down a disintegrating sandwich, his Keynesian-redistributive world-view presumably weighing on the decision to abscond. With pies and some kind of fried curry puff contraption going gangbusters, Private Media’s caterers should consider going the whole hog next year and bringing in a piping hot bucket of steamed dim sims.
After Wayne’s 40-minute presser, it was time for Leigh Sales to hit the make-up chair for some rouge and a blow wave as select ministers to roamed the room, with Penny Wong and advisers forming a tight huddle and Crikey’s Bernard Keane laughing it up with Peter Garrett about a topic that will remain secret but could have conceivably included the terrible calibre of Maroubra frappes.
By 7pm, with keyboards whirring, economist Richard Denniss completing his masterful macro-analysis and Crikey sister site SmartCompany delving into subsection 421 of amendments to SME legislation, it was time to eye the exit and plan another night of comprehensive liver destruction.