Sector slams ‘haphazard’ approach to budget lock-up
29 March 2019 at 4:20 pm
Community groups say they will not be silenced by the federal government despite a move from Treasury to reduce the sector’s presence in this year’s budget lock-up.
Social sector organisations including Homelessness Australia, Every Australian Counts, Disability Advocacy Network Australia and the Australian Council For International Development have been denied access to the lock-up, even though they were invited in previous years.
Other groups such as Volunteering Australia and National Shelter were initially denied entry, but were given a last-minute reprieve after intense lobbying efforts.
Every Australian Counts director Kirsten Deane said her disability advocacy group have attended lock-up every year since 2011.
She said it was incredibly frustrating that some groups were able to lobby their way into the lock-up while others were denied.
“We’ve been trying really hard in the last couple of weeks to secure ourselves a spot but we’re still unsuccessful,” Deane told Pro Bono News.
“We are disappointed because we know that people are relying on us to go into the budget lock-up and do our analysis so we can explain what the budget measures mean for them.
“But it certainly won’t silence us.”
The decision will force groups like Every Australian Counts to wait until the budget is released on Tuesday night before they can look at it, rather than having the afternoon in lock-up to dissect the figures.
Deane said it was incredibly important that community and advocacy groups were actively included in the budget process and that denying equal representation was undemocratic.
Adrian Pisarski, the executive officer of National Shelter, told Pro Bono News he had already booked flights and accommodation for the budget months ago, assuming that his group would be included in the lock-up.
It was only when he contacted Treasury for confirmation that he realised his organisation had been left out of the lock-up for the first time in over a decade.
After a “robust exchange” of emails with the lock-up manager, Pisarski was yet to hear a response. But after a number of media reports on the situation, National Shelter was finally granted access.
Pisarski is still not exactly sure what led to Treasury’s backflip, but is pleased he will be able to attend.
“It’s an important event,” he said.
“It’s one of those things that we schedule our year around and even if there aren’t particular announcements we’re looking for, the overall shape of the budget affects people on low incomes and their housing choices.
“So we were surprised to originally be excluded from it.”
Pisarski said he was concerned by the lack of notice given to organisations about the sector’s reduced presence in the lock-up.
He also said he would be keeping an eye out on budget day to gauge the lock-up attendance of other sectors.
“We will see if the same restrictions are being applied evenly across the board or if it’s something they are applying only to the community sector. Because if it’s the latter it would be a very worrying trend,” he said.
ACFID CEO Marc Purcell told Pro Bono News he was extremely unimpressed with the way lock-up has been handled this year. He said Treasury’s “haphazard approach” to budget briefing was concerning.
“Excluding key representative bodies from critical democratic processes presents yet another example of declining transparency,” Purcell said.
But the government denies it is trying to shut out the sector from the budget.
A Treasury spokesperson told Pro Bono News the intention of lock-up was to provide embargoed access to the budget papers for stakeholders with “a clear and immediate need”.
“Each year, the numbers for the lock up are limited, and are balanced against venue size, cost and security,” they said.
“As with all years, the number of people wishing to attend far exceeds capacity and not everyone with an interest in attending the lock-up is able to attend.”
The spokesperson said Treasury greatly valued the contribution of community groups to the budget process.
“Representatives of the sector make up the largest proportion of attendees, and include organisations like Refugee Council, ACOSS, Brotherhood of St Laurence, National Shelter, National Foundation for Australian Women, People with Disability Australia, and the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples,” they said.