| March 23, 2022
Regulatory Legislation Amendment (Reform) Bill 2021 - Council amendments
Ms KEALY (Lowan) (15:54): There is a saying which is a hacked from Marcus Aurelius, which is, ‘Words are opinion, not fact. Action is the only truth’. I have been sitting back today and listening to all these regional Labor MPs saying how they always stand up for regional Victoria and they have always stood up for regional Victorian newspapers, and yet they did not vote to support regional Victoria newspapers a few weeks ago. In fact they were silent; they were absolutely silent.
We have not heard at all from any member of the Labor government saying, ‘You know what? I took this to the party room. I took it to caucus and said, “This isn’t good enough. These changes that you’re putting forward in legislation will take a significant amount of revenue out of our regional newspapers. For some it will put them out of business. For some people, they will not be able to access public notices that would otherwise be their only mechanism to see what their local council is doing, and they will be forced now to have to go to an internet portal and actually take affirmative action to go and access this information rather than see it in their regular regional newspapers”. I do not understand why no Labor MPs stood up for regional newspapers at the time that they could have made a real difference.
I do not know whether they took action once the regional newspaper editors got on the phone and said, ‘Hey, this is going to do an enormous amount of damage to our papers. You know it’s an election year, guys. Maybe you should rethink it’. Even when that action happened, when we saw the country media group come out with a considered and targeted campaign to point out the damage that this legislation by the government would do to regional newspapers—even then—they did not speak up. And no wonder, if it was because this bill was brought forward before Labor preselections were finalised. We all know there are consequences if you dare to speak up against the government’s position, if you dare to speak up against the Premier: you do not get endorsed for preselection.
So I look around at these regional MPs. They say there are 18 of them, but I do not see any of them in my area ever—I live a long way from Melbourne. We do not see them; we just do not see them. So why on earth are we hearing all these country Labor MPs saying they are doing everything for regional Victoria? They are only actually doing something when they are forced to, when there is an amendment made in the upper house and it comes back to this chamber and they are forced to make that change. They do not naturally stand up for regional Victoria; they have to be forced and pushed to the line to do it. The only groups that do that are the National Party and the Liberal Party, and we have done it successfully again today.
I do support the amendments that have been put forward by the member for Eildon, which will further cement the mandatory requirement that they must advertise in regional newspapers. That is so very, very important. Our regional newspapers are the lifeblood of our communities. They do an enormous amount of work, particularly the newspapers that are run by just one person—and there are a lot of them. They are making the effort to communicate what is happening in their local area with the rest of the people that are there, and that makes such a difference. It is not just about the public notices. Some of that is government notices, but a lot of that is about the hatches, matches and dispatches, as we refer to them, to see what people are doing. And can I say, it is particularly for elderly people in the community to keep engaged with the kids and grandkids of people that they know. It is also for people who move away from the area—they want to keep in touch with their friends and family who live in country areas still. But it is also about that local info. I know as a kid how excited I would be if I got a photo of myself in the paper because I was playing netball, and it is the same thing today. Kids love to see themselves in the paper. Golfers love to see themselves in the paper, and the footballers, the hockey players, schools—when people get an award, when they get an achievement recognised. They might get a citizenship award when they are doing great things in the community, when they are making a difference.
This is a way that we celebrate our communities, and that is what helps to build community pride. These regional newspapers are really at the heart of how our local smallest regional communities, our rural communities, are maintaining their community pride in how they feel about growing up and living in a small community. What we do as MPs is we stand up for all our communities, whether we live in the city or the country, but for me, I stand up for dozens and dozens of individual communities who all do things their own way and who all are proud of their communities because they are strong, they are a great place to live, work and do business but most of all they look after one another—and they do that by always supporting their local paper.
We saw over the COVID pandemic that regional newspapers were so often cut off from information distributed from the government. We saw that a lot of that information was being pushed through the internet, pushed online, rather than being advertising through the papers. Now, this hit the papers hard, but it hit our communities even harder. So this is not necessarily just about a funding and a revenue line for our papers, it is actually about a really important conduit between getting information from the government out from our big offices in Melbourne and getting it into people’s homes so they know what the rules are, they know what the risk is, they know where they can get vaccinated, they know how to look after one another and if they did get coronavirus, they would know what to do in those instances—how to get their groceries, their medication, the help that they might need. I do not think this government did enough to communicate with people who did not have access to online resources over the past 2½ years.
I would like to do a quick shout-out to all of the papers that are in my electorate. Lowan is the biggest electorate in the state and we probably have the most newspapers as well, I believe. We have got 19 regional newspapers in my electorate, and I would like to commend them for their amazing work to support their local communities. It is hard work. There is a workforce shortage at the moment across all industries, but particularly in journalism. If there is anyone out there who wants to train up as a journalist, there are many, many cadetships available in my electorate of Lowan. Not only do you get to live in a great place, but you get some of the best training you could ever possibly get to start your career in journalism.
I would like to just give a shout-out to Dean Lawson and the team at the Weekly Advertiser, Ben Fraser and the team at the Wimmera Mail-Times, Stawell Times-News and Ararat Advertiser, Campbell Kirwan and the team at the Hamilton Spectator, and Dave Ward and the team at the Horsham Times, Dimboola Banner, Jeparit, Rainbow and Yaapeet Argus, and the Warracknabeal Herald. Dave is doing a fantastic job. He is just putting in a new printing press—the first new printing press in Victoria for decades, I believe. Good work, Dave. Craig Wilson at the Ararat Advocate has done a great job establishing a new paper in the past few years. Kristy McDonald at Casterton News—she does a great job as basically a one-woman show in Casterton. Em Gladdis at Nhill Free Press and Kaniva Times and her team. Toni Domaschenz at the West Wimmera Advocate has done a fabulous job over the pandemic, particularly with the border closures and the difficulty in getting clarified information out to the community. Angela Barelli at the Murtoa & District Advertiser. Stewart Esh at the Mortlake Dispatch and Terang Express. Simon King at the Dimboola Courier and Robin Letts at the Buloke Times. You all do an absolutely fabulous job in your coverage of your local communities and of building community pride. So many of you contacted me with concerns about the original legislation that Labor put together. I am very proud today to see that there will be amendments made to make sure that the government will continue to require advertising in our regional newspapers, and I trust that will make sure that all of our regional newspapers will continue strongly to build our community pride, to share our local messages and to provide that essential communication about what is happening in the community for many, many generations to come.
I commend the amendments by the member for Eildon to the house.
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