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Behind the budget curtain

Liam Quinn emerged from the federal budget lock-up adamant the supposedly archaic process has its place in Australian politics.

Fixing the Windsor knot in my tie as I trotted down the stairs from Crikey’s third-floor office, I had no idea what to expect inside the Federal Government budget lock-up.

Not in my wildest dreams did I envision a pop-up make-up stand. Yet, there it was, beyond the security checkpoints, amidst camera crews, Anzac biscuits and instant coffee.

The magnitude of the day meant any political journo worth their proverbial salt – and one intrepid intern – descended upon Parliament House, and the line for those waiting to have their entry-ticket stamp was akin to something you’d encounter on a Saturday night on Brunswick Street.

After nervously fumbling a handful of forms, my name was found, and I proceeded to sign a rather official looking document promising two years imprisonment if the rules were broken in any way. From there, it was time to clear one final set of security guards, before collecting the government’s latest financial brainchild – and the document that would seal its potentially pending reckoning.

Aesthetically, the collection of chambers that served as our cell for the day were breathtakingly innocuous.

Inoffensive carpet patterns adorned the hallways, perfectly polished wood staircases carried the ground from level to level, and even fellow lock-up attendees blended into one collective business-attired being.

After overcoming the initial unease stemming from being iPhone and wi-fi free for six arduous hours, it was impossible not to be swept up in the spectacle of the event. This sentiment was furthered by only barely avoiding being bulldozed by a stampede of cameramen, rushing to film the Treasurer strolling into the chambers.

Once everyone had taken their place, an eerily quiet fifteen minutes or so passed, in what truly was the calm before the storm. An early clarity-seeking sojourn to the Treasury offices was livened up by Michelle Grattan’s observation that the “wait in line until your number is called” system was best suited for a deli or doctor’s office – not the inner most annals of Australian politics.

Jam-packed conference rooms hummed with the sound of narrative creation, keyboard punching and laptop processors churning.

It felt like this was the way political reporting should take place.

The over-the-top dramatics of question time, and the circus-like myriad of doorstops and quick-fire statements, couldn’t be further removed from the sober, considered thought behind – hopefully – each piece churned out during the six hours of solitude.

For that reason alone, calls for the budget release to be “unlocked” should be relegated to Parliament’s scrapheap.

Over the course of six hours on one May afternoon, away from Twitter and 24-hour news networks, you could hear yourself think. It doesn’t matter who’s first or who’s retweeted, shared or commented upon most; the premium is placed on the actual analysis, and not just the time in which you release it.

The process certainly needs some updating to make it 21st century relevant, moving to an electronic budget rather than running off reams of paper to provide a hardback copy. The irony of reading about climate change policy on unnecessary sheets is not lost on anyone.

After finally being released at 7:30pm, I hoped journalists for years would endure the same seclusion.

The budget lock-up is a strange old beast, but it without question serves its purpose.

Liam QuinnTHUMBLiam Quinn is a third-year Bachelor of Journalism student at La Trobe University, and the editor of upstart. You can follow him on Twitter: @liamquinn23

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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