On Australia’s Budget Day, before the public presentation of the budget, the Treasurer (Australia’s Chancellor of the Exchequer) spends the day behind locked doors briefing media and interest groups on various aspects of the budget.
This is known as the Budget lock-up.
Because of the market-sensitive nature of the information in the budget papers with which they are provided, those journalists authorised to attend the briefings are not allowed access to the outside world until the budget has been presented in Parliament by the Treasurer, which begins at 7.30 pm.
Throughout the day, having signed the Official Secrets Act and submitted to a guarded, locked floor of the Treasury building, political, economic and other senior journalists beaver away beside layout artists, leader writers and political cartoonists under the leadership of the paper’s deputy editor — the editor normally stays outside to run his ‘ship’ — in order to produce budget pages for the following morning’s newspaper.
Sydney Daily Telegraph (and Australia’s best) cartoonist, WARREN BROWN, reveals how he resolves his own creative problems on one of the biggest occasions of the newspaper year.
I WAS AT the Federal Budget lock-up in Sydney last night. For those who’ve never been to a Budget lock-up, it’s like weekend detention but with worse food than even Silverwater Jail could dream up.
At 1pm, Australian Taxation Officials, in the style of Eliot Ness, impound your mobile phone, make you sign the Official Secrets Act in your own blood and lock you in a room with other hapless journos until you’re given parole as the Treasurer begins speaking at 7:30pm.
The general ambience within our confinement is akin to that endured by those poor souls locked in Steerage Class during the Titanic’s final hours.
We are linked by a secure phone line to my paper’s corresponding lock-up at Parliament House in Canberra where I can make contact with Daily Telegraph Deputy Editor Kelvin Healey. One of the key stories is the annihilation of the so-called ‘Zombie Measures’: budget repair proposals put up by [former Liberal Party Prime Minister 2013-15] Tony Abbott and [former Treasurer in Abbot’s government] Joe Hockey, budget proposals never enacted by the Senate [upper house] but still technically ‘undead’.
So I send through a few roughly sketched ideas, one showing [current Treasurer] Scott Morrison wielding a huge chainsaw labelled ‘Budget 2017’ to dismember the staggering undead, Abbott and Hockey.
“This is great” says Kelvin “It goes perfectly with [Australia’s finest columnist] Miranda Devine’s story on the same page.” But Kelvin suggests a change. “Can you make it a shotgun? You kill zombies with shotguns.”
Now, I would not argue with [top political and economic journalists] Malcolm Farr, Paul Kelly, Michelle Grattan, Sharri Markson or Simon Benson during a Budget lock-up as their expertise on the nation’s fiscal narrative is second to none. But if there’s one thing I know about, it’s the best way to dispatch a zombie.
Morning after morning, while driving Oliver Brown, age 10, to school in the ute, a relentless barrage of hypothetical questions are posed, among them: “Dad: in ‘a apocalypse’ what would you rather have: a chainsaw or a shotgun?”
I generally try to wheedle my way out of hypotheticals like these, but it’s always a pressing matter that needs to be thrashed out and solved, and generally Oliver concludes a chainsaw is probably what we’ll need when the zombies eventually trespass onto our property.
God knows where this comes from, by the way. Never in my wildest dreams did I think a ute conversation about the pros and cons of blowing holes in or dismembering the un-(grateful)dead would one-day come into play at a Budget lock-up, but that moment had obviously arrived.
And so I say to Kelvin on the phone to Parliament House – “Mate, I’m pretty sure you kill zombies with chainsaws.” Kelvin stands firm: “I’ve seen Night of the Living Dead and you use shotguns”.
“Hang on,” I tell Kelvin, and I opt for a quick vox-pop among the august journos buried deep in the mountains of Federal Budget information.
“Does anyone know,” I ask the room, “whether you kill zombies with chainsaws or shotguns?”
They all look up. The question is taken as seriously as if it were about the housing affordability crisis.
“Umm. . . chainsaws, I think,” says one.
“No, shotguns,” insists another. You’d use a shotgun.”
“Really? Shotguns? Not chainsaws?”
“Yeah. I’m pretty sure, shotguns . . .”
I take my hand off the mouthpiece. “All good, Kelvin – a shotgun it is..”
And there you have it; my Budget Day contribution is complete.