Full coverage: Budget 2014
Being locked up for six hours with a roomful of journalists and economists sifting through thousands of pages of budget figures isn’t everyone’s idea of fun, but most press gallery reporters wouldn’t miss it for the world.
“I’ve lost track of how many budget lock-ups I’ve been in,” says SBS Chief Political Correspondent Karen Middleton, who is among hundreds of journalists in the lock-up this afternoon.
Treasurer Joe Hockey will hand down his first Federal Budget at 7.30 pm AEST today but media are given access to the papers several hours ahead in the “lockup” so they can read through embargoed budget materials under the careful eye of Treasury officials.
Journalists can sign in from midday and doors close at 1.30pm, after which point no-one is allowed to leave.
Security is a key concern for the lock-up – journalists aren’t allowed to take in mobile phones and the entire area is monitored for “unauthorised transmissions”.
The budget lock-up has come a long way since the old days when it used to be held down in the Treasury canteen. It now takes place in a network of committee rooms at Parliament House, big enough to house hundreds of journalists and news production staff.
What happens in the lock-up?
The lock-up allows journalists to read through the budget documents – in hard copy and on USB sticks – and complete their stories before the embargo is lifted at 7.30pm.
The documents consist of hundreds of pages of data, so several hours are needed for journalists to read through, to understand and to report on the figures.
“It’s generally fairly quiet to start off with as everyone’s poring over the budget speech and key documents,” says Middleton.
“It starts to get rowdy once everyone’s feeling more comfortable and got a grip on things.
“It’s always an interesting and stressful, afternoon.”
Journalists have been complaining about the need for the budget lock-up ever since Treasurer Ben Chifley introduced the protocol in the 1940s.
In addition to Treasury officials, Treasurer Joe Hockey will be in the lockup to address the media. He will also hold a press conference at about 4pm, the comments from which are embargoed until 7:30pm.
The Opposition, minor parties and interest groups are in a separate lock-up, allowing the government to have the first say on the budget in any reports made public at 7.30pm.
This year, members of the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union, the Community and Public Sector Union and the Australian Services Union have been refused access to the separate lock-up.