The Budget lockup

Well I’m at my first budget lockup. All went smoothly getting in except my name was down as Farrah. Arrgh – memories of high school teasing about Farrah Fawcett Majors. A few media types joke with me about lowering the standards with bloggers being allowed in.

Have given up my cellphone and Blackberry but am allowed to keep my Vodafone data card on condition I do not use it until the embargo time has passed. I don’t think I have ever been separated from my Blackberry for so long. Well maybe when I sleep but it is of course at the bedside table!

Working out exactly what Kiwisaver means for employers and employees was my main challenge and the Treasury staff were superbly helpful in checking my calculations and correcting them. The one who helped me (she was referered to as a Kiwisaver expert) was a devastating combination of intelligence and beauty. Sigh – back to the budget.

Some of the Treasury staff remembered me from the days when I was part of the team putting together the budget communications package for the two months in advance. It was interesting being on the other side back then as not all your colleagues were cleared for budget secrets so you have to spend a couple of months being very careful who one could or could not discuss the budget with.

Dr Cullen took questions from the media and analysts present. I got to ask two question to him about Kiwi Saver – asking him whether there is a political risk for him that a future Government could convert the Cullen Fund into Kiwi Saver accounts (I suggested such a move would have his Foreign Minister’s support) if the take-up in the future reaches say 90% or so. He said he would fight that with all his strength. He did not disagree though with my assertion that employees would have to be very stupid not to take up Kiwi Saver, and it may be seen as de facto compulsory over time.

They put on a small lunch for us and had a nice chat to NZUSA people who were also in the lockup, plus various media people.

I thought I found a mistake in the Budget Economic and Fiscal Update to do with income from the Superannuation Fund but it turned out not be a mistake – the fund does technically make a tax loss one year. I managed to keep the excellent Treasury staff busy with a series of inquiries.

OBERAC has been renamed OBEGAL just to annoy us. Also the new international financial reporting standards mean that accounts from previous years will not be directly comparable to accounts from 2007 onwards which is a pain for people like me who like to study the trends.

Anyway Dr Cullen is just finishing his speech so time to go. Very much enjoyed being in the lockup. Having three hours to read all the info was really needed to usefully comprehend it, and being able to ask the staff for clarification was also very useful. Most of all getting to directly question the Minister of Finance on his budget, is very cool. I can’t see it happening in most countries! So thanks to Dr Cullen’s office for letting me in the lockup as media.

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