May 30, 2017

Lockup crackdown won’t stop leaks — but it will make it harder for journos to do their jobs

Treasury secretary John Fraser has taken the extraordinary step of banning journalists' mobile devices from the annual budget lockup.

Josh Taylor — Journalist

Josh Taylor


"I met the guy who did it," Treasury secretary John Fraser said of the person who leaked then-treasurer John Howard's speech to veteran political journalist Laurie Oakes in the 1980s. The leak that sunk the budget. Fraser said in Senate estimates yesterday that it was the last time there had been a leak from the Treasury Department.

Fraser is on a hunt for new leaks, however, as hours before the budget lockup in May this year, both Sky News and The Australian Financial Review reported the details of the proposed levy to be imposed on the banks, which was announced in the budget. Both reports went public well before journalists filed into Senate committee rooms, but Fraser has focused his attention on cracking down on the lockup while ASIC and the AFP investigate the leak on the bank levy.

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10 thoughts on “Lockup crackdown won’t stop leaks — but it will make it harder for journos to do their jobs

  1. Kim Colbourne

    I’m not making any comment on the merit or lack of merit in this proposal, but there are such things as iSticks, which have a lightning input and a USB input, which could be used to transfer documents from iPad to laptop via flash drive. I don’t see where iPad Pros would be necessary – I’ve typed documents on an iPad Air with a Bluetooth keyboard without issues.
    This is purely addressing this article’s technical concerns.

  2. Jackol

    The simple, obvious solution is for journalists to simply not go. Wait for the Treasurer to officially release the budget documents and analyze it properly where you have all the resources at hand and in the form you prefer.

    The budget will keep for a few more hours, days, weeks. The whole charade seems pointless to me – rather than bemoaning the hoops that the increasingly insecure and irrational government of the day wants to make journos jump through, just ignore the process and do your jobs as normal – analyze announced policy and ask probing questions. That doesn’t require a lockup to achieve.

    1. Josh Taylor

      I used to think this, but the six hours provides a good amount of time to digest the document and to ask officials questions to clarify something. Something we don’t get much of a chance to do when everyone is rushing to file all at once.

      I get why from the outside it might seem like a charade, but it’s really quite invaluable to journalists and results in better stories being produced, in my opinion.

    2. AR

      Jackol – notwithstanding Josh’s reply, I would take this concept much further, to the extent that any journo. who takes a leak or secret, you-my-speshal-frend briefing be blackballed by colleagues.
      We’ve seen the, fully justified, erosion of public trust in lobby stenographers over the last couple of decades – hence the lack of concern for job shedding at FauxFux & NewsCorpse – so it might be worth a bit of solidarity (HA!) amongst them to hold an intervention and “just say NO!”.
      It would be impossible for the oldest ones, so thoroughly addicted to feeds, to go cold turkey but, given the calamitous results of the current hugger-mugger relationship on the community & public weal, it’s gotta be worth a try.

  3. grimace

    @ Josh Taylor
    “…and the numbers contained on budget tables were not able to be copied into spreadsheets, as in previous years, and had to be entered manually.”

    There is plenty of software available to crack a PDF or do OCR on a table and get its contents into Excel/Word. I pay for the Adobe software to do this (https://acrobat.adobe.com/au/en/acrobat/how-to/pdf-to-excel-xlsx-converter.html), though I’m sure there is free software to achieve a similar result.

    The availability of this software does not change that the material should be available in Word/Excel etc, but it is not an impediment to a determined journalist.

    1. Josh Taylor

      As with the other comment above, OCR and other means to bypass the hurdles they put up are fine but it’s not really the point. It’s the principle.

  4. graybul

    Ahhh That word “accountability” . . . again.

  5. Charlie Chaplin

    Ah. Here it is. ” Crikey asked the Treasury Department how much it spends on budget lockup, but the department said it could not break down the cost as it was covered across several contracts.” One of the many advantages the government gets from outsourcing. It can’t tell us how much drug testing “dole bludgers” will cost either: “commercial confidence”. Outsourcing = unaccountability.

    1. AR

      One might almost think that that particular cop-out -“so sorry, commercial-in-confidence” is not an accident or unfortunate side effect but a feature of such political ‘thinking’.
      Imagine if we knew the real figures on any given PPP or privatisation or, the new wrinkle in NSW for the bus network, franchising.
      Coz that works so well with sub post offices & fast food cloacae.

  6. adrian

    What job is that exactly?

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