Tuesday, 13 May 2008

No fun on the Hill on budget night

Tonight was budget night in Australia and the new Labor government was presenting its first budget which, as Tim Blair has pointed out, was a race between Working Families and Inflation.

I had the chance to wander around Parliament House tonight unescorted and it certainly was a different place to years gone by.

Last year there were parties going on in many of the minister's offices, which is right and proper, as preparing a budget is a large undertaking involving a lot of people and thanking them for their efforts is fair enough. One could wander in and out of the ministers' offices and security wouldn't be at all worried. It gave people the opportunity to meet up with decision makers and senior advisors etc, which is always handy when working in Canberra.

The fell hand of Captain Kevin was on full display tonight, as there were very few, very muted receptions being held in only a handful of offices. I've seen more action in a mausoleum. Not only were they not celebrating, which I'm sure was a deliberate decision in line with the government's "this is serious, inflation is a huge issue, we have to cut spending" budget tone, but security wouldn't let me in anywhere. I did manage to wander into the Labor Business Council dinner in the Great Hall but only lasted a few minutes before security very politely escorted me out.

Fair enough. He who has the gold makes the rules.

Now, you may think that I'm just pissed off that I couldn't sponge a free drink or eight courtesy of the nation's taxpayers but that's not wholly true.

I did not see one person, not one, in the whole place who had a smile on their face or looked even remotely happy - with the exception of a few in the Great Hall, including Peter Garrett who was clearly enjoying the conversation he was having.

Up in the Press Gallery the normally affable Mike Bowers wandered past looking serious. Wayne Swan was up there, as well, doing pressers for a few of the media outlets and he looked serious. The minders looked serious. The photographers and TV cameramen looked as bored as could be. Out in the courtyards people were talking in low tones and looked serious. People passing in the corridor looked serious.

You'd see fewer grim visaged people in a war cabinet meeting at the outbreak of hostilities.

If the tone of this government is to try and control things at such a micro level then we are not in for happy times ahead as a nation. Ministers should be concerning themselves with forging the future, not worrying about minutia. They should be engaging everyone who has the ability to help them achieve their goals and not restricting access to a trickle.

(Nothing Follows)

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