By Gus McCubbing
Feature image source: aph.gov.au
In an open letter published yesterday, the editors of the University of Melbourne’s Farrago, the University of Sydney’s Honi Soit, and the Australian National University’s Woroni, condemned their collective rejection from the budget lock-up taking place next week.
The budget will include higher education changes which will force university graduates to pay back their HECS debt when they start earning $42,000 a year—down from $55,874— while student fees will also be raised by 8 per cent.
The lock up, which takes place at Parliament House, provides journalists with the opportunity for early access to official budget documents and briefings from Treasury officials.
A spokeswoman for the Treasurer, Scott Morrison, said that this year’s lock up would be limited to professional publications due to capacity restrictions.
Student papers Farrago, Honi Soit, Woroni and Togatus have all been denied access to the budget lock-in
However, the editors of Farrago, Woroni, and Honi Soit said by excluding student media from the lock up, the federal Government has denied them the opportunity to closely analyse a budget which will have a massive impact upon young people.
“This move smacks of a government unwilling to face the scrutiny of young people, a government which does not wish to engage with those who will be directly affected by their policies, and a government which believes it can avoid criticism simply by turning journalists away at the door,” the student papers said in a joint editorial.
Jasper Lindell, news editor of Woroni, said he doesn’t believe there are any real capacity issues, given that space has been found for student journalists in the past.
“I think it’s a convenient line to pull, but I find it hard to swallow that there’s been such a proliferation of journalists in the last 12 months,” he said.
Alexandra Alvaro, an editor of Farrago, said she suspects the student editors might be excluded for other reasons.
“With the biggest reforms in four years coming to Higher Education being announced next week, it does seem like it could be an attempt to silence criticism,” she said.
While the student publications will have full access to the budget documents once the embargo is lifted, Mr Lindell said it is vital for them to be in the room during the lock-up so they can provide thorough reportage on issues in the budget affecting young people.
“The lock up itself provides access to Treasury officials—the boffins who can explain what the Budget numbers mean and provide insight into what effect the proposed changes will make,” he said.
“The Budget documents can be difficult to interpret and the chance to question bureaucrats gives greater depth to the reporting.
“With student media locked out, we will now have to rely on the interpretation of other reporting rather than developing anything first hand.”
The budget lock-up also provides invaluable experience for student journalists, Ms Alvaro said.
“It’s a let down that they now won’t be given the same opportunity as students who have come before them,” she said.