Diary of a media lock-up

Unless you count a few high school detentions, I have never been locked up, so I wasn't sure what to expect from the marathon six hour media lock-in for the federal budget in Canberra.

Luckily for me, the team of SBS staffers based at our Parliament House bureau are nothing less than consummate professionals who were able to walk me through the process. Here's how it went down:

10am: The flight from Sydney to Canberra is barely more than a short bounce across the highlands. As the plane descends, I scan the skies for a glimpse of Skywhale. Haven't heard of Skywhale? It's Canberra's teat-baring gift to herself on her 100th birthday. It's a clear day, but sadly I don't see a thing.

Skywhale: the surreal hot-air balloon is part of Canberra's centenary celebrations.

11am: The taxi queues are monstrous.

11.20am: Finally bound for Parliament House, I quiz my taxi driver on all the important issues. "Sorry, uh, what?" he says, utterly confused. "No, there's no sky-fish here."

12pm: The Senate entrance of Parliament House is all but deserted. Am I in the right place? A few security checks later and I'm whizzing through the corridors, which are painted pale pink to match the Upper House. On the House of Reps side, they're green. This is helpful, because the place is a maze.

12.30pm: Time's ticking, and everyone is madly checking themselves before the lock-in. Camera? Tripod? Laptop charger? Piles of junk food? Energy drinks? All check. No mobiles, "or you'll be arrested," I'm told.

1.30pm: What's the collective noun for a group of journalists, a gaggle? I don't know if I've ever seen so many in the same place.

2pm: We're in. The doors close. There's nothing but a few hundred journalists and a whole lot of reading. Silence creeps in as everyone tries to pick their way through the budget papers, which start with a pile of press releases and build up to thick tomes for each portfolio. Right now, six hours doesn't seem like enough.

2.45pm: Here's Treasurer Wayne Swan to answer questions. There are many.

3pm: Policy changes are teased out. The baby bonus has been bumped! There's an incentive for retirees to downsize their homes. And good to see additional funding for SBS.

3.10pm: Jenny Macklin stops by. We ask for clarifications on Indigenous funding. One of the tricky parts is parsing out what's already been announced, how much funding is allocated for this year and how much is estimated for years to come, all of which are subject to change.

4pm: Here comes the food. All media networks appear to be operating on pretty tight sandwich budgets of their own. Nothing fancy here, but it is all gratefully inhaled.

4.30pm: Upstairs for a press conference with Wayne Swan. No question that this is a lean, tough budget with few election incentives for voters.

5.30pm: The upstairs viewing gallery serves as an impromptu TV studio, with broadcast journos filing for tonight's TV news. Here's the view from inside:

7pm: Spotted: Someone's playing Solitaire! A few others look suspiciously like they're sleeping with their eyes open. Most of the reading and analysing is done, now everyone is scratching to get outside.

7.30pm: We're out. Many literally running back to bureaus within Parliament House to file stories… but most of the big-ticket items have leaked already.

8.30pm: One of the cameramen has split his pants at the crotch while straining to get a shot! Much hilarity.

9pm: The day's far from over. The corridor outside SBS's Canberra bureau becomes clogged with cameras, journalists, PR types and wandering politicians. Joe Hockey and Wayne Swan stop by, and are put in the hot seat by bureau chief Karen Middleton.

9.30pm: Brief pause for pizza. Back to filing. Still more to come for the TV team, with the late news up ahead.

10.30pm: In Sydney, Ricardo Goncalves is hosting the late news. Karen's back in the studio to provide analysis of the day. And then it's done -- for today. I'm headed back to Sydney, but the budget reactions will continue all week as the opposition, smaller parties and other organisations have their say.

Source: SBS

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