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What it was like inside this year’s Federal Budget Lockup

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Angus Capel

Oct 7, 2020

Each year in Australia’s capital, an event takes place that’s shrouded in great secrecy: the Federal Budget Lockup. In a unique privilege, Xero was invited to Old Parliament House to gain an understanding of how Budget 2020/21 will affect its customers. As Small Business Advocate (and one of Xero’s resident Canberrans), I was lucky enough to make the guest list. And I’d like to invite you inside…

The two-hour lockup is designed to allow industry and media stakeholders the opportunity to gain access to the Budget before the Treasurer’s speech at the House of Representatives. Traditionally held on the second Tuesday in May, thanks to the general chaos of 2020, this year, we were gathered together in early October. 

Upon entry to Old Parliament House, our identification was cited and any devices capable of transmission confiscated, before myself and the 39 other attendees were corralled into a holding room. 

Entering the inner sanctum and staying calm under pressure

Unsure of what to expect, I could feel the nervous tension building (in my case, at least). Upon 5:30pm ticking over, the group was led into a cavernous room that brought to mind an old school hall. Inside, a number of socially distanced a-frame tables were waiting for us – each one stacked with plastic bound copies of the Budget papers (alongside plenty of hand sanitiser). We were seated three per table, and presented with Budget papers one through four, a number of glossy documents announcing programme benefits and the portfolio budget statements. 

Needless to say, security was tight, and confidentiality taken exceptionally seriously. There were guards at the door, and officials wandering the room to make sure no one was surreptitiously connected to the internet. While we weren’t allowed to eat (full disclosure, I snuck in some mints), thankfully, bathroom breaks were permitted. 

To make the most of the allotted two hours, and avoid getting lost in a sea of information, stakeholders needed to unearth their key areas of interest – and quickly. It was clear that everyone had their own strategy, with the room descending into a concentrated silence, save for the harried rustling of a sea of official documents being scrambled through in unison. It was an intense experience.

Crafting my Budget papers plan of attack

Intent on keeping my focus, I knew I needed to come up with a plan of attack to unearth the information that would best serve Xero’s customers. In search of digital business initiatives (or broad brush business productivity initiatives), I started with the glossies in order to gain an overview of what the government is trying to achieve. 

Then, I moved on to the Treasurer’s speech (shared via USB), which further refined the key messages and priorities and offered a surface level understanding of some very complex matters. In this case, it was evident that this year’s Budget is very much focused on a select number of big business incentives designed to get people back to work. 

Finally, I moved on to Budget paper two – a veritable diamond mine for the small business sector. This document outlines all spending and receipts by portfolio, which is no mean feat to make your way through (regardless of time limits). Ultimately, it’s the nuts and bolts of government working towards increased productivity. 

Covering everything from payment times and practices to investments in government processes and deregulation (all intended to save small businesses valuable time). I had no choice but to accept that it would take well beyond two hours to understand how this proposed plan will function in full.

Uncovering what comes next for the small business sector

Eventually, I felt the mood around me lightening as everyone got a handle of what this year’s Budget involves. As our collective stress levels decreased, the volume steadily began to rise. Soon, people were criss-crossing between tables and unpacking key points together (some were even bouncing around ideas for imminent media releases).

And then, suddenly, it was all over. Immediately upon 7:30pm, when the Treasurer left to speak at the House of Representatives, the embargo was lifted. In a flurry of excited activity, all stakeholders were able to retrieve their phones and shoot their analysis through to their expectant teams. Naturally, I was no different and jumped straight online to give my team the key updates on the small business sector.

While two hours may not have allowed the time to uncover this year’s Budget in full, being privileged enough to gain entry into the lockup was an incredibly valuable experience for the Xero team. By uncovering additional software requirements to facilitate government policy, we’re able to ensure that our customers can seamlessly access future government measures. All of which gives them the confidence to continue on their journey to recovery. 

And while the road may prove to be long and bumpy, this way, we can enable the small business community to come back stronger and smarter than ever.

If you would like to know more about what was included in the 2020/21 Federal Budget, and what it means for Australia’s small businesses, click here.

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