Budget 2012: Locked And Loaded
By Mike BowersMay 11, 2012
How do you get journalists to comprehend the complexities of a federal budget before they start telling everyone about it? You start by locking them up.
It's a strange beast, the budget lock-up. You give up your phone and all means of communication with the outside world. (Computers may be brought in, but no internet access is allowed; cameras and recording equipment, but no means to broadcast what's recorded.) Only then may you enter a set of rooms with the best and brightest of your colleagues ‑- and of course the budget papers.
That's what it's all about - the budget papers. A surprisingly heavy bagful of books and folders and papers, actually.
You get access to a blizzard of information, six hours before anything official is released. The cost is captivity; the reasoning is that media professionals need time to produce the news of the budget, and they have to be "locked up" so news (particularly, only briefly considered news) does not leak and affect the markets. The reports are ready to go at the very second the Treasurer's speech hits the despatch box at 7.30pm.
My best reckoning is that I have been "inside" 23 budget lock-ups. For 22 of them, I concentrated on the news of the budget; this time, on Tuesday, May 8, 2012, I turned my lens on the production and process inside this small and sometimes silly world.
With this new-found freedom, this is what I saw.