Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

No Big Budget Surprises to Keep a Lid on Budget News, Australian Journalists Are Locked Up for Five Hours to Glean Facts before the Treasurer's Speech

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

No Big Budget Surprises to Keep a Lid on Budget News, Australian Journalists Are Locked Up for Five Hours to Glean Facts before the Treasurer's Speech

Article excerpt

THE Australian government has one way of dealing with reporters who might leak details of the annual budget.

It locks them up.

On Aug. 18, approximately 400 "journos" were confined to several rooms in Parliament House from 2.30 p.m. to 7.30 p.m. with copies of a budget the size of a phone book.

The reasons for the tradition, simply called "lock-up," include:

* Etiquette: It is felt that members of Parliament should be able to hear how money will be spent from Treasurer John Dawkins's own lips before the news media brays it to the world.

* Accuracy: The five-hour lock-up gives reporters nothing else to do but learn the budget inside and out.

* Stock market: Protecting it from sudden jolts stemming from partial information or misinformation.

The reporters plugged in their laptops, plunked down thermos, and started digesting such gripping headings as "Trends in budget aggregates."

Here's what they gleaned:

The deficit for '93-'94 will be $16 billion (Australian; US$11 billion), up from $14.6 billion last year. The budget will provide a stimulus of about 0.5 percent of gross domestic product. But the Commonwealth is not looking at what's happening this year so much as what's down the road. The budget aims to provide a modest stimulus to the economy until the world economy picks up, then slack back. The government's medium-term goal is to reduce the prospective deficit for '96-'97 by $9 billion, to 1 percent of GDP.

Revenue is expected to be 23.5 percent of GDP in '93-'94, slightly lower than in '92-'93; outlays to be 27.3 percent of GDP.

This is not what you'd call a tough budget - since the government wants to stimulate the economy, expenditures weren't cut much. There were no major tax increases. Revenue primarily will be generated through indirect taxes. But it is a budget that will generate both groans and cheers.

Those groaning include smokers (higher excise tax on tobacco), those who travel heavily or entertain lavishly for business (limits in deductions), and anyone engaged in Medicare fraud. …

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