Government locks out analysts from the lock up

Donal Curtin writes:

We’re about to have the most important in a generation. There’s no question that Grant Robertson has inherited one of the most difficult challenges – probably the greatest – in living memory. What he does, or doesn’t do, will define how, at a minimum, we cope in the near-term with covid, and, in all probability, will have longer-term repercussions on how our economy behaves and evolves. I wish him well. I doubt if there’s anyone, from any end of the political spectra, who’d disagree.

So there’s obviously an enormous public interest in what he’s going to do on Budget day, May 14.

Normally, the people most interested in fiscal policy sign up for the ‘lock up’ – a vetted group of people, mostly the media but also the likes of bank economists and sectoral lobbyists – who on Budget day get access (usually mid-morning) to the Budget documents ahead of their release, subject to a time embargo. The deal is, if you’ve got a strong interest in fiscal policy, and Treasury agrees you’re a player in that space, you get to see the stuff in a controlled environment, and with the advantage of the preparation time, you will be able to provide informed commentary, but (because of the agreed embargo) not before the Minister of Finance does his thing in the House. Works for everyone. I’ve been in lots of them.

But not this year. I won’t be there: neither will the bank economists, the trade unions, the farming organisations, the investment managers. Here’s what’s happened.

Earlier this week I asked Treasury what this year’s arrangements were going to be, given that the usual physical gathering in the Beehive was obviously out of the question.

Back came the answer that “the Minister and the Speaker of the House have arranged for a Restricted Budget Briefing to be held at Parliament for accredited members of the Parliamentary Press Gallery only”.

A terrible decision. This massively restricts the ability of media and analysts to provide analysis of the Budget at the same time as the Government releases the Budget.

In the absence of such analysis, then the scores of ministerial press releases will be the dominant narrative.

The gallery journalists are usually supplemented by their specialist business and economics colleagues. There is so much material to get through you need a lot of people to do it.

It is ridiculous to say that the lockup could not occur without a larger attendance. You could fit dozens and dozens in the normal room it is in, with two metre spacing.

You could also use additional rooms – have one for media, one for analysts etc.

Of all the Budgets in all the world, this is the one that should be most open to immediate analysis. The powers that be can, and should, rethink.

Absolutely. This is a terrible decision.

UPDATE: The Government has backed down and is now allowing 25 economists and analysts to attend, which is good.

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