Federal Budget 2024: Canberra’s biggest winners and losers on Government’s night of nights

Headshot of Sarah Blake
Sarah Blake
The Nightly
4 Min Read
Which MPs were the big winners on Budget night?
Which MPs were the big winners on Budget night? Credit: The Nightly

Ordinary Australians look to coverage of the Federal budget to find out whether they’re winners or losers.

In the procession of politicians through Canberra’s press gallery during the lock-up that precedes all that information flooding airwaves, TV bulletins and yes, digital newspapers, the real winners among the political class make themselves known.

They’re the select few government ministers granted a pass by the Treasurer to walk the red carpeted halls linking the bureaus of Australia’s biggest media outlets to talk up what the embargoed announcements mean for their portfolios.

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And on Tuesday afternoon, the hands-down winner was Resources Minister Madeleine King.

Beaming as she swept into The Nightly’s office, Ms King described the forecast $32b flooding into the resources sector until 2041 through the Future Made in Australia plan as “great news for the country”.

“It’s the most significant resources budget that any government has ever released,” she said.

“It’s a really massive opportunity.”

The press gallery lock-up walk for a pollie is a hot ticket on budget afternoon and at least one senior minister’s request to take part in it this year was knocked back.

Dr Chalmers and Finance Minister Katy Gallagher – in colour-coordinated dark suits with Labor red highlights of a tie and patterned socks for him and a blazer for her – used their tour of the gallery to talk up their new $7.8b in cost of living relief.

With a $300 power bill rebate for every household and a $1.9b boost in rent assistance for almost a million people, the budget would deliver the tightwire act of driving inflation down while giving punters more money in their wallets, he said.

“The clear advice that we received was that the way that we designed our cost of living package will put downward pressure on inflation,” Dr Chalmers said.

“And it won’t add to broader inflationary pressures in the economy.”

It was a line he delivered again and again as he spruiked his third budget and the second consecutive surplus in 20 years.

Dr Chalmers has perfected his calm and alliterative post Budget press conferences but there was one point in Tuesday’s address to the media when he looked a little tetchy.

Standing beside Senator Gallagher in Parliament House’s main committee room, Dr Chalmers emphasised the “stunning progress” Labor had made in repairing the bottom line.

His budget that was “equal parts relief, restraint and reform” stood, he said, in stark contrast to his predecessors, who were “neither objective nor reasonable”.

“I will also remind you to take a slightly longer term view of what we’ve been able to do in the budget,” he said in response to a question on the burgeoning “unavoidable spending” forecast for 2024-2025.

“We are more than $200b in the bottom line better off than what we inherited. We’ve made stunning progress in returning and repairing the budget.”

Much has been written over the years about the oddness of the budget lock-up, the biggest non-election date on the press gallery’s calendar.

It’s an event that like so many others has changed since Covid, and where hundreds of journalists used to travel to Canberra to be locked in a room with ranks of Treasury boffins who could answer their technical questions, they’re now confined to their individual offices.

It was a measure introduced for the delayed 2020 budget and one that appealed to those in charge of contracting newsrooms, given it meant they didn’t have relocate their entire operations to the capital for the night.

And I know this is going to sound a lot like fake news but covering my first lock-up in eight years after spending time working overseas, the similarities between Canberra’s night of nights and that of Hollywood stood out.

At the Oscars, print journalists are locked into a function room in the depths of a Hollywood hotel, with a bank of desks along one wall holding film historians able to give details and context about every single Academy Award ever handed out.

Because it’s America, there is far too much food, and because it’s Hollywood they have a shrimp tower over budget night’s cold meat pies and pizza.

The journalists there are of course far more glamorous, and even though newspaper and website scribes aren’t going anywhere near the actual red carpet that you see on TV, many don tuxes and ballgowns for the night.

I probably don’t need to tell you that it’s also a lot more fun than budget night. But what Canberra lacks in glitz it makes up for in gravitas.

And in that appearance from one very happy Resources Minister who had delivered a windfall for not just her WA constituents but the critical minerals sectors in the NT and Queensland, there was an Oscar-worthy victory appearance.

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