Friday 29 April 2022

Regional news media publishers Australian Community Media (ACM) and Country Press Australia (CPA) are warning of a catastrophic loss of local newspapers across regional Australia as a result of significant price increases in newsprint, due to kick in from 1 July 2022.

This represents a terminal threat to local newspapers already on a knife-edge, as well as hundreds of journalism jobs across Australia, including in regional Australia.

Scott Morrison isn’t responsible for the rising cost of newsprint – but he has failed to do his job of addressing structural weaknesses in the sector, and his “too little, too late” approach has left news publishing exposed to external shocks. 

The issue of rising print costs did not arise overnight yet communities across regional Australia now stand to lose their local paper as a result of a decade of Liberal National government incompetence, delay and mismanagement.

At the start of the 46th Parliament, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission delivered the findings of an 18-month inquiry that identified widespread closures of local newspapers and made a number of recommendations to support public interest journalism – recommendations Scott Morrison has either underdelivered or failed to deliver.

In 2019, the ACCC reported there were 21 local government areas without coverage by a single local newspaper. Just last week, the latest data from the Public Interest Journalism Initiative showed this figure has now jumped to 31 LGAs without local print or digital news coverage – with rural and remote regions worst affected.

News deserts are emerging on Scott Morrison and Barnaby Joyce’s watch, yet they’ve ignored constructive proposals from Parliamentary inquiries, government agencies, industry and unions. Local newspapers are the lifeblood of local communities, yet the Liberal National government is letting them bleed dry.

Local newspapers are more than just a source of news on local council, courts and law enforcement – they are a community exchange for small business, real estate, personal notices, schools, local sports and community events, among other things.   

Labor condemns Scott Morrison for delivering less than what the ACCC said was needed years ago – before COVID-19, recession and inflation hit the economy – and we reject the chaotic approach to the little that has been done.

The Liberal National government has announced grants, re-announced grants, failed to get money out the door on time, shifted money around, overlooked key segments of the sector and channelled funding at “innovation” while many news publishers struggle with everyday rising costs. 

Labor considers that government intervention to support public interest journalism, including direct grants, should be done within a principles-based and evidence-informed framework with adherence to best practice – which has been lacking under Scott Morrison. It is reprehensible the sector isn’t already on a more sustainable footing to absorb this price increase.

Scott Morrison’s “habit of allowing problems to become crises before mishandling them” now threatens some of the oldest and most respected newspapers in the country – papers that have survived drought, flood, COVID-19 and recession may not yet survive the Morrison Government.  

Labor calls upon and stands read to ready to work with the Government, in accordance with caretaker conventions, to formulate a crisis response. It is unacceptable that the responsible Minister has still not made a statement. 

Labor will otherwise work with the publishing sector to ensure an incoming Albanese Labor Government is ready to activate a crisis response before it’s too late. 

Australia can’t afford three more years of Scott Morrison or his mistakes and excuses.