REGULATORY LEGISLATION AMENDMENT (REFORM) BILL 2021

Council’s Amendments

Mr D O’BRIEN (Gippsland South) (16:30): I do not know how I can follow that, member for Lara. I do note that apparently, though, in speaking on this amendment, which is about newspapers, as long as you are speaking about something that was once in a newspaper, it will be relevant. I have got a lamington recipe for you guys over there. I have got a roast lamb recipe for everyone. We are going to talk about a whole lot of things in my 10 minutes.

I find it entertaining actually, as I am sure many of us on this side do, that we have heard basically the same ministerial speaking notes for the last five speakers on that side all saying what a strong, wonderful Labor regional representation we have over there—all of them standing up for regional newspapers, all of whom said nothing when the bill went through this place, all of whom said zip, who were silent. None of them said anything about this issue when the bill went through, and now they are all standing here saying, ‘What a champion I am for the Ballarat Courier and the Bendigo Advertiser, and we’re filling our 10 minutes by listing every journalist that works at every newspaper’. It is extraordinary. I do not want to overstep the bounds here, but I think the member for Broadmeadows should have a crack, because at least he is a journalist and might understand what he is talking about. We will not talk about how well he has been treated by those opposite, but the member for Broadmeadows would at least have some idea.

I stand here with a conflict of interest, if you like, as an ex-country journo. The member for Broadmeadows will know the Printing and Kindred Industries Union and the journos—it was never pretty. Even when I was a young whippersnapper cadet at the Gippsland Times back in the early 1990s there was tension between the printers and the—

Ms Addison interjected.

Mr D O’BRIEN: I was an AJA member for a very brief period of time. I found that they did absolutely nothing for me, so I did not stay there. But it is true, irrespective of the sudden conversion by those opposite, that our regional newspapers are an absolutely critical part of our local communities. I am sure it is true also in suburban parts of Melbourne but I do not think to anything like the same extent as in our regional communities. All regional members will understand how important they are.

I do find it a bit amusing that we heard the member for Wendouree just then repeat the Assistant Treasurer’s commentary about the apparently huge support that the government has given to regional newspapers since the start of the pandemic—$17.5 million. I remember that announcement that the Premier made at the time. I think at the time it was a $6 million commitment, and I remember looking at the rough numbers and going, ‘Well, that’s basically what the state government would spend on regional newspapers every year’, and I am sure if we did a comparison, $17.5 million since April 2020 is not that different probably to the previous two years. So we can talk it up, but the reality here is governments always spend money on newspapers, and there is a bit of spin going on with that particular issue.

Absolutely our regional newspapers have struggled, and what this original change to legislation was going to do was be another straw on the camel’s back. I know from my own experience in the Gippsland South electorate I have got the Gippsland Times based in Wellington shire; the South Gippsland Sentinel-Times covering both the South Gippsland and the Bass Coast areas; the mighty Foster Mirror, which is a very little paper run on an oily rag, but it is a ripper, run by Rabs and Kate down there; the Bridge, which was only set up in the last couple of years, during the pandemic, by Deb Lucas in Yarram—a fantastic local paper that has filled the void left by the Standard, which actually had to close; and the Mirboo North Times as well, which is a wonderful little community paper run entirely by volunteers. There are numerous other newsletters, but those are the actual newspapers that I am talking about. Unfortunately, as I said, as a result of the pandemic we lost the Yarram Standard News and the Great Southern Star based out of Leongatha, and I know that loss has been felt sorely by the people of Leongatha and surrounds in particular; they do not feel often that they are now serviced as well by local news.

All of those papers I mentioned did get in contact when this legislation was first presented to the chamber. They certainly emailed me and expressed their concerns about it. I am very pleased that the advocacy of those on this side has actually resulted in these amendments being agreed to in the upper house and that they are now being debated here. I think it is critical, as the member for Eildon said, that the regional newspapers are a training ground for our journalists across the country. She talked about people going on to bigger and better things. I am not sure if it is a bigger and better thing, but I am now here as a member of Parliament—the member for Gippsland East likewise and the member for Euroa. There are others. The member for Broadmeadows has gone on to bigger and better things. He was at the Age, so I think being a Labor MP is much better—

Mr McGuire: ABC. Two Walkleys.

Mr D O’BRIEN: ABC. All right, we will pay that. But I can look through the by-lines in our metropolitan dailies or through the tags on the nightly news on the major networks here in Melbourne, and a huge volume of them have come through regional media, whether it is through newspapers, like me, or whether it is through regional TV, which I also progressed to, many of those have gone on to great things. It is a bit of a job, I guess, for country MPs keeping up with the WIN journos, previously the Nine journos. We had both there for a short period of time. You just get to know one and they get snapped up and go on to bigger and better things.

I guess I have touched on an issue there that we have lost many of our voices. We have lost the Channel 9 bulletin. It was fabulous when it came in—I think around the start of 2017 or 2018. Channel 9 was the Southern Cross Austereo network, and ironically in setting up the business one of my former cameraman colleagues was actually a sales rep at Southern Cross in Gippsland. He and I were there at the official launch of the Channel 9 regional news service. Ironically enough he and I had both been retrenched by Southern Cross in 1994 when it axed its local news, so the wheel does go full circle, and sadly again it has not lasted. They disappeared. Of more concern, I am sure, for all of us in regional Victoria when it comes to TV is the loss of WIN News as a local bulletin. We still have obviously the statewide bulletin with the local angle to it, but it is certainly diminished, and that is a great loss to us. Like I said, the pressure on our local newspapers has been immense. So that is one of the issues that I was concerned about with this change in the previous legislation, which is now being overturned by the amendment.

The second bit is the transparency issue. Many of the newspaper owners and editors that I have spoken to about this issue actually raised this as well. It is not good enough to simply say, whether it is a state government, local government or statutory authority notice, that, ‘We’ve put it on a website somewhere’, particularly if it is a dedicated website off in the ether that no-one is going to find unless they go looking for it. People do find them in their local papers. Whether they are reading the hard copy local paper or—as I do now often on my iPad—the digital edition of it, you do go through the classifieds. When you are reading the sport or the real estate you are seeing those advertisements in there. You would not have seen those if they were simply just advertised on a website somewhere that you had to go looking for. While I think we can have that as well as a good addition to a bit of transparency, to take it out of the newspapers full stop would have been a loss, because so often people stumble across this sort of information. They are not scanning the newspapers to find out what the local council is doing in their street or what the state government is doing with a planning application; they find it when they are in the process of reading their local news looking for a photo of their grandchild playing netball or whatever it might be.

That was the other thing that concerned me about what the government had been doing with this legislation. It is another reason as to why I am happy that the amendment has been put forward. I think the member for Eildon’s amendment to that amendment actually clarifies the situation much better and should be supported by the chamber. But I am pleased that country newspapers will be protected and supported through this process, not just for the financial benefit that they need but for the transparency and accountability that they provide to government and local government right across this state.

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