Community Radio News Budget Coverage

Amy Leiper, 23rd March 2022

With the 2022 Federal Budget just around the corner, National Radio News (NRN), is gearing up to provide community radio stations with full coverage. NRN journalist, Laura Devoy, will be joining Amanda Copp, NRN’s Political Reporter in Canberra on 29 March 2022 to help with this mammoth task. NRN’s News Director, Frank Bonaccorso, will be on hand to divvy budget related story assignments out to other journalists. The day will be long and busy. We thought you might like to know how it works.

Frank said, “The 2022 Federal Budget is a watershed mark for Australia’s economy, set to guide the nation into a wary future marked by conflict and pandemic. Our quest is, and always has been, to break down the core issues and what they mean for communities around Australia.

"National Radio News has proudly carried the banner for regional Australia since 1997. 25 years on, our commitment remains as clear and as focused to the regions as ever. Regional Australia plays a core role in the health and vitality of this nation and National Radio News continues to ensure its constituents are informed about the issues that matter most."

Amanda said, “I’m excited to cover the Budget this year, but it’s always a scramble to cover all of it. The first year at NRN, I was on my own and I was still learning the system. The second year, I had help when Erin Archer joined me and we were able to split the work. With more resources on hand, I was able to attend the Treasurer’s lockup press conference and managed to get a question in that mattered to our audiences. Every year we plan on getting better at covering the Budget because every year we learn more about the system and develop better processes.

“Having another person on hand really helps. Just sitting down together and going through which bits and pieces we’re going to focus on. There is so much information that it’s impossible to get through it all in the six-hour window, so you have to be strategic during that time. We try to spend the first few hours just reading the budget documents, so that after 4pm, we are busy writing."

Budget Day runs on a strict timetable every year. On 29 March at 1pm, journalists begin the Budget “lockup”, where they are given the budget papers under embargo. Inside the lockup, all external communication is blocked. That means no phones, internet or external communication until the embargo lifts at 7:30pm when the Treasurer begins his speech in the House of Representatives. No stories are able to be published during the lockup either.

The budget consists of four books with hundreds of pages each. They contain spreadsheets, tables, numbers, and policies. Government also releases ‘the glossies’, including the budget overview which contains where Government will focus in-line with its big announcements. During the lockup and once journalists have had a chance to look over the budget – at about 4 pm – the Treasurer and the Finance Minister hold a press conference. This is strategically planned to allow for quotes to be included when journalists’ are allowed to publish at the end of the lockdown.

“One of the most important pieces of information that most journalists scramble to find is the tiny page at the back of the budget book of raw numbers that contains the total spend and total incoming revenue so they can calculate how much the deficit will be and the total debt amount.

“We are definitely looking at big headline figures. We are very interested in this but once we have gotten through these, we will start digging through policies and the way it will affect our communities and our sector. This includes funding for communities, regional infrastructure, and the indigenous portfolio to understand where money is being allocated,” Amanda said.

Besides the actual budget, each Department release a book with detailed information. This includes indigenous affairs, agriculture, communications and any regional affairs, transport infrastructure, etc..

After the lockup, journalists listen to the reaction from special interest groups, a process commonly called ‘The Conga Line’. It gives these groups a chance to talk about how the newly announced Budget will help or hinder them.

Amanda plans to attend the lockup press conference and ask a question once again. To make this happen, she says she will arrive early so she can grab a seat at the front of the conference. After that, she says, it takes a lot of enthusiasm and eye contact to be recognised.

With so much information and because it is so flat-out, so much can get lost – and then new stories come up. There is also pressure to keep the information timely. Thursday, 31 March will be filled with the Budget reply announcements from the Opposition.

Last year Amanda produced 28 stories around the Budget, a huge number and proving her dedication to keeping the sector very well informed of the impact of government policy.

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Amanda's program Bubble Pop can be heard over the Community Radio Network and is also podcasted on all major streaming services including Spotify and Apple podcasts. A new series looking at the election will be kicking off in April.

The Wire is carried across Australia via the Community Radio Network, to over 140 stations.

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Charles Sturt University journalism alumni and now Chief of Staff of the National Radio News newsdesk at the University’s Bathurst campus in NSW, Laura Devoy, has recently spent a week immersed in the excitement of the Federal Budget in Canberra.


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