Australia: Student journos cry foul after being barred from Budget lock-up
Inside Senate, the upper house of the bicameral Parliament of Australia. Source: Shutterstock

Student journalists at Australian varsities are railing against a decision to bar them from attending the federal Budget lock-up in Parliament House next week, despite being allowed to do so in previous years, Buzzfeed reports.

On the same day Australia’s Education Minister announced huge cuts to university funding that would lead to fee hikes, student media received notice their applications to attend the lock-up had been rejected. The lock-up is where the Treasurer briefs media and interest groups on the Budget just before its presentation.

Those barred this year include Honi Soit (Sydney University), Farrago (Melbourne University), Woroni (Australian National University), Opus (University of Newcastle) and W’SUP (Western Sydney University), according to an open letter penned by the publications’ editors condemning the government’s decision to keep them out.

“By locking student media out of this crucial political event, the federal government has denied us the opportunity to closely analyse a Budget which will have a massive impact on young people,” the editors of these student media outlets wrote.

“Now, rather than having the chance to pick over the Budget first hand and question Treasury officials ourselves on proposals that will directly affect young people, we will be forced to sit on the outside and rely on the coverage of others to tell this story.”

On Monday, the Australia government announced plans to slash funds to universities based on a new report that varsities’ revenue more than covers the cost of teaching for each student. Students can expect their fees to be hiked and to start re-paying their student loans earlier as well under the new reform package that will be unveiled in the next few days.

Post-announcement, the ensuing analyses have been painting a grim picture of what the new Budget will hold for Australia’s youth.

Crikey’s political editor wrote: “What is clear is that next week’s budget looms as a continuation of this government’s war on young people… This is an economic war on our youth, and one they should never forgive us for.”

And then as if to prove critics right, student media were almost immediately after notified they wouldn’t get to attend this year’s lock-up.

“Thank you for your interest in attending the 2017-18 Budget media lock-up, but unfortunately, we are not able to offer you a place at this year’s event,” an email sent from the “Budget Lock-Up Team” to Woroni reads.

Treasury spokesman Scott Morrison told Buzzfeed News the rejection was due to “space restrictions” to accommodate “professional news publications”, a category these student media outlets don’t fall under.

However, the student editors pointed out this was not the case before. Various student publications were allowed to attend the federal Budget lock-up in previous years.

“Is our rejection this year an issue of legitimacy? A concern that, all of a sudden in 2017, we are not capable of accurate, fair and high-calibre reporting?” the open letter reads.

The retraction this year is making students suspicious of the motive behind it, especially since Monday’s announcement of one of the biggest and most controversial reforms to the country’s higher education in the last four years.

Woroni editor Jasper Lindell said it wasn’t a coincidence student newspapers had been denied entry the same year the government is announcing the controversial university reforms.

“I think they’re afraid of student newspapers stirring the pot and refusing to accept their press-release policies that are having a negative impact on our readers.”

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