Getting beyond a joke
THERE were jovial greetings and gales of laughter on the government benches as the territory's top brains went around repeating each other's jokes.
'Big spender!' said one government secretary, pointing to a colleague in mock accusation.
'Revenue generator!' replied the other with a proud puff of the chest.
Others joined in the chorus.
'Big spender!' 'Revenue generator!' 'Big spender!' 'Revenue generator!' Legislators, too, were in relaxed mood. Especially Lee Cheuk-yan, who was so relaxed he left his suit and tie at home and turned up wearing an open-necked shirt, with his anorak on and carrying a backpack.
In the public gallery, the leading lights of the Executive Council sat lined up like some spoof of our colleague Glenn Gale's Monday morning glitterati column, Close-up .
Except that they all wore the serious demeanour of dignitaries attending a Budget speech.
Suddenly, there was that tell-tale whirring and clicking of a dozen press photographers in action as a nonchalant Sir Hamish made his way to his seat with a disappointing lack of ceremony and began exchanging banter with his colleagues.
You could hardly say the tension mounted.
Eventually, Sir John Swaine, the council's other knight, arrived and the proceedings began.
In the public gallery, Hongkong Bank's John Gray was the first to fall asleep.
But almost everybody else followed suit eventually.
Perhaps it was that relaxed delivery that lulled them into a coma.
'We're loaded,' it declared soporifically.
'So you can sleep easily.' But they all woke up when it mattered.
'Can there be anyone left who seriously questions the importance to Hong Kong's stability and prosperity of the linked exchange rate?' asked the Financial Secretary, looking pointedly at David Li.
Mr Li, who has been known to do that sort of thing, looked studiously at his papers.
Which certainly got Edward Ho and Ronald Arculli giggling.
'Just in case there are any surviving sceptics,' Sir Hamish continued cruelly, 'let me save them further losses from future fruitless speculation. The linked exchange rate is here to stay.' Mr Li tried to disappear under the bench.
'Finally, alcohol' said Sir Hamish many long minutes later.
'Some have argued that I should apply a 'cap' to the duty payable on the more expensive products, such as vintage wines.' There was a sudden stir of interest, especially from that grape connoisseur, Andrew Wong, clearly hoping fellow oenophile Sir Hamish might repent his neo-Calvinist fiscal rectitude.
'I am not entirely lacking in sympathy with this suggestion,' continued the Financial Secretary, with a sheepish grin.
'But while my heart, and my palate urge sympathy, my intellect tells me to make no such change.' The French Consul-General, for one, will be sorry to hear it.