House debates

Wednesday, 2 September 2020


Broadcasting Services Amendment (Regional Commercial Radio and Other Measures) Bill 2020; Second Reading

5:13 pm

Photo of Sharon BirdSharon Bird (Cunningham, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The question is that the bill be now read a second time, to which the member for Gellibrand has moved as an amendment that all words after 'That' be omitted with a view to substituting other words. The question before the chair is that the words proposed to be omitted stand part of the question.

5:14 pm

Photo of Lisa ChestersLisa Chesters (Bendigo, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Here, again, we have more government rhetoric—more of the government pretending to deliver big, in the critical area of broadcasting and regional media, but doing very little. The Broadcasting Services Amendment (Regional Commercial Radio and Other Measures) Bill 2020 is another of those bills introduced with big fanfare. There was a big press conference. There was big talk. The government said they'd put their arms around regional media, they'd support regional journalists, and that this bill would deliver lasting reform.

Instead, what we have in this bill that is before us is housekeeping—when major reform is needed. I say that as a regional MP and one who is deeply respectful of my local regional media. We have many outlets in my electorate which deliver the local news and the local content for many demographics. I am proud to say that, despite all the challenges that regional media have had recently, we've been able to hang on to so many of our regional media services. But we have lost a few.

Only a few weeks ago we lost the brekkie team at hit91.9 Bendigo. Their target audience was a younger demographic in the Bendigo region, and I know that they'll be sorely missed. It wasn't that long ago that we also lost the Bendigo Weekly, a popular weekly newspaper that went into every household in Greater Bendigo. Over 34,000 households received this news. When the paper finished it was purchased by the Bendigo Advertiser and stopped being free, and I spoke publicly about how disappointed I was that so many households in Bendigo would now not have access to free print media.

But whilst we've lost a few papers and a few radio breakfast shows we have been able to hang on to many. When I spoke to regional media about this bill and about why they believe they've been able to hang on when so many others haven't, they said it is because they've had the backing of so many businesses locally. Despite the tough times in the area of the Macedon Ranges and Mount Alexander shire, those businesses have continued to support their local papers: the Midland Express and the Castlemaine Mail. I'm really proud to be not just one of the advertisers in these papers but also a contributor. Why do I advertise in these papers? Like so many local MPs I know the importance of these advertising dollars to keeping these papers afloat. I also believe it's important that my constituents know where they can contact my office. Much of the media that regional MPs have in these local papers is bipartisan and apolitical. It's more about representations and supporting the local community.

One of the issues that regional media constantly raise with me, particularly the smaller independent media, is the fact that they don't get access to federal government dollars for advertising. I would have thought that with the coronavirus outbreak and the government so desperate and keen for people to adopt and download the COVID-19 app it would actually have called upon some of our smaller independent media to spread some of the advertising dollars further. The good news is that some of these papers did receive quite substantial support from the state government. It's a win-win when federal and state governments advertise with local papers; it secures these papers and supports journalists' jobs, and also spreads an important government message. These are just some of the critical things that our local media do.

We always talk about how important the ABC is in times of emergency, particularly in the regions. We've had one of the worst summers on record and there is already talk that this summit could be just as bad. I know, like so many, that my family will be listening to the ABC continually to make sure that we are up-to-date and hoping, with our fingers crossed, that we don't have a fire break out near us. The ABC doesn't just report the news. In times of emergency it also saves lives. It is critical to our regions. It's so disappointing that, whilst not part of this bill, in other actions this government has continued to attack the ABC over and over again, whether it be through freezing their increases or cutting funding. Throughout the government's seven years it has made it very hard for the ABC to continue in their current format. That has a huge impact on the regions.

In the government's attempt to support commercial radio they have failed to do something. Whilst they've allowed for greater flexibility they haven't actually listened to the concerns that are being raised. One of the reasons why regional media are calling for greater flexibility is because they haven't actually had the support required from the government to keep people employed in the regions so that they can continue to deliver local content.

You could see a mile away that the COVID-19 global pandemic was going to mean a hit on advertising, yet we've seen this government being slow to act to get in there and support local media. As a result, we've seen far too many newspapers close and far too many radio stations having to cut back or end services, and these are the commercial print and radio services. Whilst we mourn losing Hit FM, we are now getting the Melbourne version. I do acknowledge the other commercial radio stations in my electorate, which continue to deliver local stories and local content. We have Gold FM. We have Triple M, which used to be 3BO—and I'd be in trouble if I did not mention its original name, 3BO. We also have many community based/commercial stations—they are a bit of a mix of the two—whether it be Phoenix FM, Main FM or Highlands FM. They are all contributing to telling our local story.

One of the reasons why regional media is so critical is to tell that local story. People in our town care about what the footy results were on the weekend. They care about what the weather is going to be. They even have a laugh when they do a traffic report and the report is simply: 'There are no delays in Bendigo. Isn't it great to live in a town where you're five minutes from work?' We understand that in metro they may not get the same broadcast, but it's that tongue in cheek that we get locally that people really appreciate. Local stories matter, and what worries me is that, on this government's watch, we've lost far too much of our capability of recording and telling those local stories. In parts of Queensland, parts of WA and parts of regional New South Wales they've lost so much of their regional media that they look to places like Bendigo, Ballarat and Geelong in envy—we still have a number of regional outlets able to tell a local story.

I'd like to acknowledge the great work done by both Nine and WIN, two of our commercial TV stations who still have an evening bulletin. Whilst they're not always as kind to me as I would like, they do tell the local story and ask the local questions. I'd like to acknowledge the great work of the Midland Express, the Castlemaine Mail, the Tarrangower Times, the McIvor Times, the Bendigo Advertiser, to name just a few of the local papers we still have active in our area, and I hope they are here for many generations to come.

What is so heartbreaking about what has happened in our regional media in the past 12 months alone is that we are losing mastheads that have existed in this country for over a century. And, whilst we still have the Bendigo Advertiser, which is one of the oldest papers in Australia, I know that many other regional towns and regional cities do not share the same fortune. It is disappointing and heartbreaking to see that those towns will not have access to the same local stories, but times are tough, and we all know it. Yet all we get from this government is more window-dressing. All we get from this government is a bill that's inadequate, that merely has a few provisions around broadcasting. It is not a holistic, strategic package. It is not a partnership. It is not a framework of reform that will deliver real outcomes to secure regional media, ensure that we are recording our local stories for generations to come and ensure we're keeping regional people informed.

I've lost count of the number of students that have contacted me to say that they've read an article about a former federal member for Bendigo and wanted to get comment for their school assignments or their university assignments. They've trawled back through old editions of the Bendigo Advertiser and want to know whether an issue is relevant today. Unfortunately, a lot are. We are still having a debate about whether a government should intervene to save manufacturing jobs. We are still in a fight to ensure that the government is doing its fair share when it comes to the environment and landcare. We are still in a fight to ensure that citizens in this country all have equal rights. Bendigo is an old town, a town that was part of the early days of Federation, and we're still having a debate in this country about what it means to be a citizen. But that's part of the importance of our regional media. Today, it may be news; tomorrow, it is history. It's an important record for all of us—telling our local story—and this is an area that I'm very concerned about. It isn't just our news which is part of recording and telling our local story. It also comes down to the more fictional side of things. I am proud that, in my electorate, the town of Castlemaine has hosted and been the backdrop for three series of Glitcha very popular TV program that was filmed in the regions. It generated lots of local jobs and lots of income for the local economy.

It's disappointing that, under this government, we've also seen a slashing of funding towards this sector. Instead, this government has prioritised other industries or other parts of the sector, prioritising big-budget overseas Hollywood films to be filmed on the Gold Coast as opposed to supporting local artists, local scriptwriters, local stories, local producers and local actors to tell a version of a local story. Why does it have to be one or the other, and why can't it be both? Undervalued is the creative economy. Under-represented is the creative economy. It's an opportunity for all of us to invest now and into the future.

Right now, we are going through an unprecedented time, and, in many years to come, people will look back and want to know what the story is. And whilst I can be confident that, in my part of the world, we have had independent journalists reporting on how Bendigo has reacted, how my region has reacted and where people can get support, I know it's not the same for others. It's very hard to inform people about where the local testing clinic is if you don't have a local radio station, if you don't have local media. It's very hard to talk about the differences or the extra support an area may need, compared to metro, if you don't have access to that local media.

We're politicians and we're representatives—we know that if we want to communicate a message, we need to have that independent media there to help tell our story. I can safely say that I probably wouldn't be the federal member for Bendigo if we didn't have such a strong, independent media team in my part of the world, who were willing to ask and tell the story. When you have big money from those opposite, expensive campaigns and friends like Clive Palmer that come in over the top, it can be hard to get a local message out. It is critical, therefore, to our democracy that we have a strong regional media network—a network that is willing and able and wanting to tell the local story and to ask the hard questions.

I'm quite surprised that those opposite aren't more concerned about this, that they're quite comfortable with metro coming into their regions and telling Melbourne's stories, Adelaide's stories or Sydney's stories and that they're quite comfortable for big money to come in and misconstrue messages, to confuse electorates and to put out misinformation, like the money we saw from Clive Palmer at the last election—just to name one of many. Regional media is critical, particularly at a time when Facebook and other social media forums have such misinformation. Regional media is also key to helping to neutralise the misinformation that may be appearing en masse in social media.

That's a debate for another day and another area where this government is failing to actually reform. This bill is inadequate. It simply tinkers with a few provisions and doesn't deliver a strategic plan. Whilst our regional media is struggling, it isn't its fault that it's failing. It's the failure of this government to stand up and do more. I call upon the government to do something meaningful for regional media, not just do the window-dressing whilst we see the doors close on so many outlets. (Time expired)

(Quorum formed)

5:31 pm

Photo of Tony PasinTony Pasin (Barker, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I've got to thank the member for Paterson, because I do love an audience! So thank you, colleagues, and thank you to the member for Paterson for drawing attention to the state of the House. To those of you who are leaving, just quickly: the member for Bendigo was just bemoaning how her campaign was so poorly funded, but I do wonder whether United Voice would have been there pushing pretty hard for an ex-organiser. In any event, we're not here to talk about that; we're here to talk about regional media and its importance.

In rising to speak on the Broadcasting Services Amendment (Regional Commercial Radio and Other Measures) Bill 2020, I want to start at that point—namely, acknowledging the essential service that regional radio, television and media outlets provide to regional communities and, ipso facto, the nation. My constituents in Barker, and indeed people in all of regional Australia, depend on these services, not only to provide relevant news but also to provide a sense of community that you just don't get from metropolitan papers.

This amendment legislation serves to strengthen regional media to ensure that that industry will be viable years into the future. It does so with the stated aim of seeking to avoid losses to local content and media services more generally. To achieve this, of course, burdensome red tape that fails to substantiate any real increases in quality or services is proposed to be removed. This is just another benefit from reducing regulations, giving business the means they need to succeed. Governments should never work in opposition to the reality out there in the community. The reality for regional media—let's be plain—in a COVID-19 recession is tough and will be tough. It's been a strong industry, and we're providing strong support for change within commercial radio, which has been flagging since 2016. Similarly, in 2017 Free TV Australia advocated for exemptions in regional and remote licence quota obligations.

From 15 April our government introduced a range of measures. They included tax relief, a $50 million investment in regional journalism and red-tape relief, and we also decided to bring forward $5 million from the Regional and Small Publishers Innovation Fund. The relief this amendment legislation provides serves to complement those supports already given by our government to support this vital industry. These amendments exemplify our government's attempt to stimulate the economy through sensible, impact-free deregulation.

Regulation damages small and medium enterprises disproportionately due to constraints on resources. A survey recently found that 48 per cent of Australian businesses spent more than $10,000 per year on compliance. For large corporations, this may be an acceptable cost—indeed, it might be just a drop in the ocean—but, for small regional media outlets, this regulation must be rolled back in a way that doesn't compromise service or quality, as this bill guarantees. If COVID-19 has taught us anything, now is not the time to bog industry down with the dead hand of government regulation.

The proposed amendment to schedule 1 of the bill allows broadcasters to split their five-week exemptions over two periods. Businesses, especially ones that provide vital services, need autonomy to make the best decisions for themselves and their consumers. Currently, the default exemption period is over Christmas. But, as all of you know in this place, there's more than one time of the year that has religious or cultural significance to Australians. Many media outlets want the ability to split the five-week break over Easter as well, offering a reprieve from public holidays that makes labour difficult and, indeed, expensive to acquire.

This industry is clearly doing it tough, with regulatory inflexibility not creating beneficial outcomes for audiences or enterprises. By allowing media outlets to decide when and how they distribute their five-week exemption period, it will enable them to utilise their break most effectively based on their region's greatest needs.

Regional communities vary as much as the Labor Party policies on this front. That is why deregulation outlined in schedule 1 will allow for more decentralised decision-making. Media outlets, instead of following imposed national standards, will be able to react to their local needs and demands. Decentralisation is necessary to improve the quality of regional media now and into the future.

Within my own electorate, Mount Gambier Community Radio Station, with the call sign 5GTR FM, serves our community in ways metropolitan radio could never. The idea of the radio station came from a few passionate locals in the early 1980s. Within a couple of years, they were broadcasting their voices to the community. In fact, my late brother was a presenter on this station. I recall being introduced to Paul Kelly, Billy Bragg and others by visiting the station with him and listening to his rather eclectic music tastes. It's true—he had good taste, and he was a good bloke. During this time, it was the only community radio station outside of metropolitan Adelaide.

To the north of my electorate, we have Riverland Life FM, which is another community radio station. They describe their origin as nothing short of a miracle, as they often struggled through funding application processes and dealing with the lack of technical expertise. Despite all of these challenges, they succeeded and now operate not only to present local news but to share their faith with their community.

Radio stations such as 5GTR FM and Riverland Life FM need regulatory relief. This amendment will provide that to them so that we can continue to hear regional voices. Regional news is considered a low priority for metropolitan broadcasters. We can understand that. We get it. We understand the economies of scale. Unlike cities, which may be more homogenous, the variations in our regions we so often celebrate lead to metropolitan broadcasters avoiding generalisations in covering such diverse areas. This is not meant to be an attack on metropolitan broadcasters but, instead, is intended to highlight the value that regional broadcasters provide.

Unfortunately, as a result of changing advertising priorities, regional broadcasters have been unable to sell their available advertisement slots. The television broadcaster industry group ThinkTV released data from December 2018 to December 2019—a period long before we were introduced to the economic impact of COVID. It reported a 4.9 per cent decrease compared to the previous 12 months. Speaking to my local media outlets, I can tell you that revenue has simply fallen off the cliff. These advertisement losses are often as a result of competition from the internet, and, of course, that's a forum or a mode that's not subject to the same regulations or licensing requirements. For media outlets, this makes broadcasting a full suite of multichannels not commercially viable.

Under this bill, our government aims to better reflect the market by providing regional broadcasters certainty in situations where, due to their affiliation agreements, they fail to meet their local content requirements, through no fault of their own. For regional communities, when their local media outlet closes, there are rarely close competitors willing to fill their shoes. I've obviously experienced that in my community, with WIN Television. The stories, issues and community achievements that would've been reported effectively go unacknowledged.

In 2017, 12 broadcasters breached their local content obligations. Two of these broadcasters serviced my electorate of Barker and were located in the Riverland and Mount Gambier. The services they provide for the regions allow local stories and journalists to be heard when they may otherwise be passed by. These 12 broadcasters in breach represent 19 per cent of all regional broadcasters in the country. A licensing requirement that has just less than 20 per cent noncompliance is one that doesn't reflect the industry ACMA regulates.

Thankfully, ACMA exercised restraint, offering relief this time around. Noncompliance with multichannel quota obligations can attract harsh penalties, including suspension and cancellation of licences. This is despite the 12 licensees significantly exceeding their local content requirement on their primary channel, with their breaches occurring in the other channels they are required to maintain. There is no doubt in my mind that these significant penalties would impact not only broadcasters but also constituents in my electorate if the harsh penalties were brought into effect.

These changes will support broadcasters in my electorate, providing them with certainty in meeting their multichannel obligations in situations where they are dependent on metropolitan broadcasters whose decisions are far beyond their control. The current legislation leaves regional broadcasters at the mercy of their metropolitan affiliates and vulnerable to program scheduling changes. I believe all of us in this place agree that we cannot allow smaller enterprises to suffer such harsh penalties, particularly for events that are out of their control.

The advertising market has been further affected, obviously, by COVID-19, and, with the major sporting events not being aired, revenue is likely to decrease further. Market forecasting predicts regional advertising revenue to decline by a further 11 per cent. The content regulator, ACMA, is exercising forbearance in 2020—I'm grateful for that—and, potentially, they say, in 2021. But the revenue losses for regional broadcasters will likely impact their ability to meet their quotas on a range of channels for some time into the future.

Another change this amendment implements is moving from a mandatory local content plan to one that licensees provide upon request. This allows regional media outlets who consistently meet their obligations to save time and money on the preparation of these content plans. Local content plans are a significant administrative and compliance burden on the media industry, and improvement in local content for communities rarely eventuates. These minor but practical changes will enable broadcasters to spend their time and energy not on meeting regulatory requirements but instead on producing the high-quality local content that our regions depend on and my constituents demand.

Additionally, instead of requiring 12½ minutes of local content per day, the amendments allow for an average of 62.5 minutes per week, a much more sensible approach. Effectively, broadcasters can choose how they allocate this time over the week. In reality this will likely only be utilised in weeks with public holidays, offering a reprieve from staffing and costing issues by distributing the local content throughout the week. This also allows broadcasters to present local content on weekends, if they choose to, depending on their individual circumstances and resources and the demands of their listenership.

It may be argued that Australian media will be diluted and that local content might not be as prevalent, but the simple fact is that Australian content consistently rates well and has the highest content ratings on commercial television. The economic pull factors are there. Media outlets would be absurd to go against market forces, particularly in regional communities that switch off if the media they're consuming isn't relevant. Producing local content is not only supporting the Australian economy; it has also been seen as a profitable course of action for media companies.

These minor changes build on a program we've implemented to deal with the economic effects of the COVID-19 recession. They will enable broadcasters to spend more time on meeting the needs of their listeners than on their obligations to the regulators. I commend the bill to the House.

5:44 pm

Photo of Justine ElliotJustine Elliot (Richmond, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I too rise to speak on the Broadcasting Services Amendment (Regional Commercial Radio and Other Measures) Bill 2020. In regional and rural areas, our media is exceptionally important in terms of reflecting our local issues and what's important to our local communities. But the reality is that regional media is in crisis, and that's due to some of this government's cuts and also the lack of support we see from this government for the regions generally. So the fact is that it isn't regional media that has failed; it's the Morrison government that has failed regional media and regional communities. I don't think there are any National Party members speaking on this tonight, and that is very disappointing. As I've often said, National Party choices hurt, and some of their cuts to regional media have really hurt rural and regional Australia. What they need in those areas is support, not cuts.

This bill amends the Broadcasting Services Act 1992 and the Australian Communications and Media Authority Act 2005, with a range of measures to reduce the regulatory compliance burden on regional commercial radio and commercial television broadcasters. Once again we are seeing the government serving up regulatory changes when what is actually needed is major reform. This government has been refusing to act on these issues for years. Yet again, the government delays genuine reform when the industry is really crying out for support. As we said, we're not opposing this bill; we won't stand in the way of relatively minor amendments to alleviate the burden on our regional broadcasters. But we are very concerned that regional Australians are missing out as a result of this government's ongoing failure to support regional media.

I would like to pay tribute to the local media in my area, on the New South Wales North Coast. Whether it be print, radio or TV, they are all outstanding. Unfortunately, the media landscape in areas like mine is diminishing. Only a short while ago, we saw the closure of several News Corp newspapers on the New South Wales North Coast and a whole range of closures by News Corp across the country. These newspapers are now digital-only editions. The fact that those newspapers stopped printing was a devastating blow for our local community. These papers include Ballina ShireAdvocate, Tweed Daily News, Byron Shire News and The Northern Starall local newspapers for our area. The fact is that local newspapers and local journalists play an essential role in breaking news and telling stories that matter to us, to our families and to our communities. Our newspapers have been an essential service in times of bushfires and floods and recently with the coronavirus pandemic.

Over decades, these newspapers have been our community noticeboards for local events and sports announcements. They've also been an important place for advertisers to promote our outstanding local goods and services. It is important to note that this has been very difficult for older Australians, who have relied on their regular newspaper. Not many of them are on the internet, and they are really disappointed to not have their local community paper. I've been very fortunate to work with so many local editors, journalists and photographers over many years, and I know they all have a very deep commitment to the region. I wish them all well. It was a very devastating blow to have those major job losses in a regional area.

I would also like to take this opportunity to acknowledge the outstanding independent newspapers in my region—newspapers like The Byron Shire Echo, Tweed Valley Weekly and The Nimbin Good Times. They are all run locally and independently. They provide great local information for our community. I note their important role, and they are even more important now with fewer newspapers in our region. We also have some new community newspapers starting up, which is very exciting. I wish them well. It is wonderful to see such strong independent newspapers, and we would like to see some more. Our community is certainly very supportive of that.

It's been a very difficult time for regional media right across the country. Also, this government's cuts to the ABC have made it very difficult for our region and many others. This is an issue that people raise with me all the time. The ABC is vital everywhere and it is exceptionally vital for regional Australia. It seems that, in the face of a crisis in regional media, this government is actively making things worse by cutting ABC funding. Since 2014, around 800 ABC staff have lost their jobs, the Australia Network has been axed, short-wave radio has been shut down, and the number of hours of ABC factual programming has dropped by 60 per cent, drama by 20 per cent and documentary by 13.5 per cent. It's important to note the final report of the ACCC's digital platforms inquiry examined ABC funding and found:

Further, the public broadcasters are not currently resourced to fully compensate for the decline in local reporting previously produced by traditional commercial publishers.

They recommended 'that stable and adequate funding be provided to the ABC and SBS'. They're very clear about that.

At a time when the government should be investing in the ABC, in fact we see the Morrison government continuing their cuts to the ABC. The latest budget locked in over $83 million of ABC cuts. The fact is that in times of crisis Australians turn to our national broadcaster for trusted news and information. Especially recently, we've seen how we really value and need a strong ABC. It's not just a critical part of the media or a critical part of the public service they provide but a critical part of our communities. I know my local ABC, ABC Lismore, really have provided vital information and updates during the floods that we've had, during the bushfires and, of course, most recently, during the coronavirus pandemic. I know all who work there are very committed to our region and our community. The ABC is such a trusted public service. It's been invested in and built up by generations of Australians and really dedicated ABC staff. I think that's one of the consistent themes that we see—a really dedicated workforce in the ABC.

As I've said many times, National Party choices hurt. I think one of the cases where it hurts the most is those cuts to the ABC in our regions. It is so detrimental. Many in our community, of course, do hold the National Party to account when it comes to those cuts. Not too long ago, we saw further reports of the impacts of the government's cuts to the ABC. Now, again, due to those years of cuts, the ABC has been forced to cut 250 staff across news, entertainment and regional divisions. This has been devastating for those regional areas.

The fact is that since this government was elected in 2013, they've cut $783 million in funding for the ABC. Let's remember that this really is a major broken promise by this government. When this government was elected, they specifically promised no cuts to the ABC, and of course that promise was broken almost straightaway. We all remember when the former Prime Minister, the former member for Warringah, promised on election eve that there would be no cuts. Since then, what have we seen? We have seen successive cuts to the ABC's budget. At a time when we are losing so many media outlets, we see these constant cuts. The government's also ignored the ABC's warning that this latest cut would make it very difficult for the ABC to meet its charter requirements. It's not just Labor calling on the government to reverse these cuts; people right throughout the community are continuing to do it. We certainly will continue to hold them to account because it is devastating, especially for the regions.

This bill says it all about this government's failures in regional media. It's inadequate and it sells regional Australia short. It really only tinkers with a few provisions and minor regulatory changes. Whilst the bill might ease some compliance burden for regional broadcasters, the measures are relatively minor and are insufficient to address the concerns about the widespread issues that we have in regional media—which, as I've said, are very wide ranging. It really does sell regional Australia short, because it assumes that, where broadcasters face challenges in meeting Australian content requirements, the answer is to relax those content requirements rather than assist those broadcasters to bridge the gap or undertake genuine reform to address structural changes or provide necessary funding and support. That's what's required here, and that's how it continues to sell regional Australia short.

Also what we're seeing is that when it comes to regional media, this government just has no plan. In fact, they have no plan right across the board. We know that, whether it's about addressing the very dire economic situation—here we are in the worst recession in almost a century, and they've got no plan for jobs. We don't see any plan for job creation at all, we certainly don't see any plan for the regions and we certainly have no plan for regional media.

The government has had years and years to fix the outdated regulatory framework and to address the systemic challenges facing regional media but they just haven't done it, and that's despite calls from so many people for them to address it because of its importance in our regions. What we've seen from the government instead has been a lot of reviews and there have been a lot of recommendations made and yet they just continue to absolutely ignore them. The government did release its response to the ACCC's digital platforms inquiry in December 2019 but, unfortunately, the government did not support all the recommendations that the ACCC made. That's very challenging, because they did make some good recommendations—particularly around proper funding of the ABC and SBS.

The fact is, as I've said, that we really have an absolute crisis in regional media and a crisis in public interest journalism. This existed way before the coronavirus pandemic. It's been in place and I think it has got a lot worse since the pandemic, but it certainly was there. Data collected by the ACCC shows that between 2008 and 2018 106 local and regional newspaper titles closed across the country, representing a net 15 per cent decrease in the number of these publications. These closures have left 21 local government areas previously covered by these titles without coverage from a single local newspaper. That is just so devastating when we look at that. Also, according to the Public Interest Journalism Initiative, 200 titles have closed since January 2019.

The Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance has stated that in recent months we've seen more than 150 regional and community newspapers cease printing. This is on top of the 106 local and regional papers that have closed over the previous decade. Many of those papers were more than a century old and many may never reopen. It shouldn't be this way. The stories of regional and rural Australia are important—our stories matter. In regional Australia, the local paper is the heartbeat of the community. It provides local news which the big cities can't or won't provide. It's often also a focal point for community connection, cohesion and education. That really encapsulates the importance of our regional media.

Yet the fact is that on this government's watch we have widespread closures of newspapers, closure and consolidation of multiple television newsrooms and the mass sacking of journalists as well. That is such a devastating loss for so many local communities—the jobs there, the stories they tell, for our culture and, indeed, for democracy. I will certainly continue to condemn this government, and especially the National Party. I'm very disappointed that none of them are speaking on this bill; this is about the heart of regional and rural Australia and the fact is that they're not here at all. It's because of them and the choices the National Party make that regional Australia is now facing this crisis, along with a range of other ones as well. The fact is that the National Party, along with the Liberal Party, have really failed our regions.

But Labor will always stand with regional and rural Australia. We're very proud of that. We will fight for them all the time, whether it comes to regional media, or it's about job creation and sustaining regional economies, or it's about better services, or it's in health or education, only Labor will stand with these rural and regional areas. That's because we understand them and we will fight for them, unlike the National Party.

(Quorum formed)

6:01 pm

Photo of Meryl SwansonMeryl Swanson (Paterson, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I am delighted to stand here today and speak about regional broadcasting and to share the House with you in the chair, Deputy Speaker Claydon, one of my regional neighbours. It is so important. Sometimes I wonder whether, as politicians, we all forget the thrill of what it's like for someone to hear their name on the radio, to see their picture in the paper. We forget how important it is for local people to hear local stories and, more importantly, to be able to share those stories.

I am a proud product of regional education. The University of Newcastle was where I did my Bachelor of Arts in communications. When I was finishing my final year at Newcastle university, I was thrilled to be offered a job at NBN television. For a girl from Heddon Greta it was a dream come true to go and work at the local TV station. In fact, I couldn't believe it.

Mr Perrett interjecting

Yes, Big Dog was there in those days. He put a lot of kids to bed, member for Moreton. I'm sure he put you to bed.

I then went on to simultaneously work with a great radio broadcaster at a station in those days called 2KO. David Jones did breakfast. I worked with David Jones on that breakfast shift. I used to get up at half past three in the morning and drive from my house at Heddon Greta over the mountain to Charlestown and start work at about half past four. We would be on air from five until nine. Then I would quickly get changed and drive into Newcastle to start my job in TV. You can do that when you're 20. When you're getting closer to 50 it is a bit tiring!

I then went to work for the ABC in Newcastle and 2BL in Sydney. Over the years I have worked for 2GO, CFM, 2hd—the mighty broadcaster that was actually once owned by the Australian Labor Party. I did breakfast on NEWFM. Finally, when I ran for the seat of Paterson I finished in the media at 2NURFM, so the circle was completed. I was back at the University of Newcastle where that station broadcasts from.

I can only tell you how proud I am to have served largely in regional media broadcasting the stories of my community; helping raise the profile of important issues, like PFAS; telling the stories of people like Mary. I will never forget her. She rang me and said to me: 'Meryl, I go out every morning. The first thing I do is switch on the wireless and then I put on the kettle. There it is in my kitchen every day, my extended family.' She said to me, 'And you feel like one of my daughters, because every day I tune in and I listen and sometimes your voice and those voices on the radio are the only other voices I hear in a week.' Can you imagine that?

In fact, I think that these days, in isolation, people living on their own would very much understand that the voices coming out of the radio or the television can provide a great deal of comfort and company in times of isolation, and we've all experienced that.

Even now when I go to public events as a parliamentarian, people still reflect on my time on the radio. In fact, sometimes when they say, 'Gee, you were good on the radio,' I wonder whether it's a back-handed compliment to my parliamentary career! But I have shared so many stories over the years and truly loved it. I have worked in situations involving bushfires. I've helped people navigate their way home when they couldn't gain access to any other navigation to get through. My local knowledge helped people get through bushfire affected areas, especially around the Medowie and Port Stephens areas when those big fires came through there.

I've also worked during floods and natural disasters, and I know that, when the electricity's off and you're relying on a transistor radio and you are hanging on that local information, it is absolutely vital to you. It is the thing that gives you that information. Whether there are flood waters rising near your house or a fire burning towards your home, these are the things that people want when they feel that their lives or their livelihoods are seriously under threat. They turn to their broadcasters, particularly their radio broadcasters.

Regional stations and regional media throughout Australia have long known that change was afoot. They know now that they needed greater flexibility. They could see the great behemoths that are Facebook and Google and the big stations bearing down on them. So it's not as if they haven't been aware and haven't wanted flexibility, particularly regulatory flexibility. They've been calling for it.

So now we have a government that's kind of wading into the regulatory waters but not very deep. Indeed, we should be throwing some of this old, stale water away and providing real reform so that regional media can have the platform it richly deserves to continue to tell the stories that make Australia great. I am pleased that the government has finally started to listen to industry and provide some of these minor amendments. Frankly, it's a little embarrassing when I speak to my ex-media colleagues. They just wring their hands and say: 'The industry needs reform. We know that the earth has shifted. The ground has shifted from under our feet in the media landscape.' This government, which has been at the tiller for seven years, has just, by an infinitesimal amount, changed our course. They need to be swinging on that tiller and really making some big differences. The reform is needed.

We're not opposing the bill, because we don't want to stand in the way of these relatively minor regulatory amendments, but we know that much more is needed. For a long time now, regional Australians have been missing out as a result of this government's abject failure to support regional media. It is important to note that the bill will not lower the amount of local content. This is important, because that local content must stay. Also, I know how much my community love the opportunity to hear stories that relate to them. Regional radio really is like a friendly neighbour, and we know how important friendly neighbours putting their heads over the fence have been in these times. It is so important that people stay connected.

I want to mention The Maitland Mercury. It is Australia's third-oldest regional newspaper; it was established in 1843. This year, for the very first time in its 177-year history, the printing presses ground to a halt. We were distraught, to say the least. For a lot of it, of course, we can sheet the blame home to COVID, but we knew that this was coming long before, and so did the publishers of The Maitland Mercury. They knew that the advertising spend was changing. They knew that things needed to change, and they haven't had the scaffolding. They haven't had the reform that they've needed

For the first time in its 52-year history, the mighty Cessnock Advertiser stopped printing. The office was shut. It is a travesty. We have to keep telling these stories.

Our wonderful masthead The Newcastle Herald has done so much. If we hark back to its history when it was The Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners Advocate, it has done so much good work. In recent years, with the able assistance of members like Sharon Claydon, the member for Newcastle, it has worked with incredible journalists like Joanne McCarthy and with Julia Gillard to run the Shine the Light campaign, which was able to secure a royal commission into institutional abuse. That has forever changed the lives of Australian people in a real and meaningful way, and that came about because of a regional masthead. Also, when my community, the community of Williamtown and surrounds, started to put pressure on the government, The Newcastle Herald backed us and walked with us for every step of that journey. Journalists like Carrie Fellner were on the story. That led to real and meaningful change, and we pressured the government into providing compensation for those people whose lives have been irrevocably changed by PFAS contamination.

So this is the real power of regional media. This is why we need those journalists to be on the ground, to be hearing stories, collecting those stories and collating the information. It's not just about copy, paste, rinse and repeat. It is about really good journalism—journalism with integrity, knowing the right questions to ask, knowing the right quotes to include in a story and knowing the sources. The only way you know the sources is if you spend time on the ground with them. That's why regional media is so important. It not only tells the stories but holds us all to account. It holds governments to account. It holds politicians to account. Regional media is very important for these reasons, and, when I see tinkering at the edge, it makes me really wonder where the future of our media lies.

I just want to spend a moment talking about the ABC. Of course, I declare that I've worked for the ABC. It was a long time ago now—20 years. It's an incredible institution. When I hear people, particularly members of the National Party, criticise the ABC, I can't help but shake my head, because, for everyone I know who lives in regional, remote and rural Australia, the ABC is definitely a lifeline. Whether it's Country Hour, stock reports or weather reports, they tune into the ABC like their life depends on it, because often it does. When I hear that there are cuts being made to the ABC, I find it soul-destroying. It is our national broadcaster. It is one of the best public broadcasters in the world. The Prime Minister this week has taken a liking to comparing Australia with other countries, saying how well we've done compared to Mr Trump's US or to Britain. Well, I want to say that the ABC, despite incredible and incremental cuts in the last seven years, continues to be one of the most outstanding public broadcasters the world over. It still has correspondents in all portions of the globe. It still provides us with essential news locally. It's still the national response broadcaster when there's an emergency. It is so vital that we continue to properly fund the ABC, not for some perverse political bias that conservatives feel that the ABC has against them but because the ABC tells our stories like no other. It is incredible, whether it's via the radio, as it's done for so many decades, or via the new platforms.

I want to give a shout-out to the ABC in Newcastle. Ben Millington and the team up there have been doing a fantastic job in doing a lot of TV these days. If you're watching the ABC News bulletin in New South Wales and you see more stories coming out of Newcastle, it's because they've been able to embrace the technology and present some more stories. That's the sort of reform that we need to see funded. These are the sorts of reforms that we need to see so that regional media can pick itself up out of the hole it's found itself in and start to flourish again and tell the stories that are just so incredibly important to us all.

In closing, I just want to relate a little story. I think I was 25 and I went to New York for the first time. I'd never been there before. When I saw the bull sculpture in Wall Street, I remember thinking: 'Wow! I've seen that in heaps of movies and on the news, and here it is, in all of its brass glory, in Wall Street.' And it hit me. I thought: 'Oh, my goodness! This is what Americans experience.' It's their local place. They see their stories come to life. When you see one of your stories come to life, when you see something local come to life, it's deeper than it just being on the telly or on the radio or in a movie. It's about our culture. It's about the things that we hold dear. It's about our democracy. It's about our legal systems and institutions. It's the very fabric of who we are. So, when you as a politician pen your next letter to the editor, just remember that. You want to hope that that letters space is still there for you to be able to put an opinion, because those opinions matter. Everyone's opinion matters.

(Quorum formed)

6:19 pm

Photo of Libby CokerLibby Coker (Corangamite, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

[by video link] I rise to speak to the Broadcasting Services Amendment (Regional Commercial Radio and Other Measures) Bill 2020, and I support the amendment moved by the member for Gellibrand. The bill amends the Broadcasting Services Act 1992 and the Australian Communications and Media Authority Act 2005 to ease the regulatory and compliance burden on regional commercial radio and TV broadcasters. As in so many other portfolio areas, this government serves up minor regulatory housekeeping when major reform is needed. But Labor will not oppose this bill. We won't stand in the way of these minor amendments to reduce the regulatory burden, particularly in the face of concerns about the market failure of regional commercial TV. However, Labor is deeply concerned about this government's ongoing failure to support regional media and to deliver real reform in the context of ongoing regional job losses in media, a shrinking media market and cuts to our national broadcaster, the ABC.

In my electorate of Corangamite, we rely on the ABC. Instead of cuts, the Morrison government must recognise that regions like mine—which takes in Geelong, the Surf Coast, Bellarine, Golden Plains and the Otways—require a strong ABC presence to deliver quality news, analysis on local issues and, importantly, information when there is a crisis like the Ash Wednesday fires or COVID-19. I'll continue to fight for a strong local ABC presence in the form of a local bureau for our rapidly growing population. I'll also continue to be a strong supporter of a thriving local broadcast and print media industry. In my region, we're fortunate to have many good newspapers and radio: The Times News Group; K rock and Bay FM; Geelong Advertiser, one of Australia's oldest newspapers; Ocean Grove Voice; The Indy; and Queenscliff Herald, just to name a few.

These amazing organisations have been the training ground for many journalists, including me. Back in the day, I did a cadetship at the Geelong Advertiser. It was a time when the newspaper was king. We had a bustling newsroom with a large team of journalists, a team of photojournos and a darkroom where photos were actually developed. In the basement, compositors pasted bromides into place, and each night the massive printing press located out the back of the building came to life, printing the paper six days a week. How times have changed. The printing press has gone, and so too have the compositors and darkroom. But what remains is a newspaper with a proud history of providing local news on the issues that matter to local people. We know that our local media outlets are having to adapt. They are doing so, and we need them to continue to be a critical source of information and independent analysis about local issues. May they also continue to be a crucial stepping stone for our brightest and best young journos.

Schedule 1 of this bill does permit greater flexibility for regional commercial radio broadcasting licensees, with minor amendments to local content and reporting requirements. Crucially, this bill will not lower the amount of local content that is currently available to regional audiences on commercial radio. Schedule 2 of the bill permits regional licensees to be deemed to have complied with the multichannel transmission quota obligation even if they have not broadcast the required 1,460 hours of Australian content. This will assist licensees where they miss their quota as a result of programming decisions which are outside their control and made by their metro affiliates. These are relatively minor amendments, but Labor's criticism is that this bill is too late, it is inadequate and it sells regional Australia short. The bill is too late because it only now addresses local content obligations, which this government has known about since at least 2017. The department itself considers this to be an early warning sign of market failure. In the department's own words:

In order to fulfil the intention of its policy, the government will need to take action before market failure occurs, as this would limit regional audience's access to Australian content …

It is perplexing that this bill is being considered at exactly the same time as the government has this issue under formal review. Over three years ago, the government started a review of the Australian and children's screen content rules. The ongoing delay and uncertainty around this protracted process has caused frustration for the broadcasting industry and the production sector. When the government introduced this bill in June, the department had consultation on its review of the Australian content rules.

The review began on 15 April and ran until 3 July. But it would be remiss of me not to note that the government introduced this bill before it had even taken the time to respond to the consultation on its own options paper. This bill is inadequate, because it merely tinkers with a few provisions in the Broadcasting Services Act, when wholesale reform of the policy and regulatory framework have been necessary for years. This bill sells regional Australia short because it assumes the answer to meeting Australian content requirements is relaxing the rules rather than undertaking genuine reform to address structural challenges.

For years, Labor has been calling on this government to implement a real plan to support Australian content, public interest journalism and regional media in a landscape transformed by digitisation and convergence. Years ago, this government itself criticised the current regulatory framework as 'analog era', yet it has failed to produce a digital-era replacement. We need reform that addresses news services, the shift in advertising revenue and the uneven playing field. In 2017, former Liberal Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull described his government's changes to media law as 'a new era for Australian media'. But less than three years later the department stated that it was of the view that the broadcasters' difficulties in meeting content requirements can be taken to be an early warning sign of market failure. A transformation from a new era to market failure in under three years is what we've seen under the Liberal government—all headline, no delivery. The government has numerous reviews and recommendations at its disposal to assist with media reform. Yet they continue to ignore them, or they cherrypick them in a lopsided manner.

Australia's media was already in crisis before COVID-19. This government's many failures on regional media have left the sector exposed, and COVID is exacerbating those changes already underway. The ACCC data shows that 106 local and regional newspaper titles closed across Australia between 2008 and 2018, a 15 per cent net decrease in the number of these publications. The sector needs urgent help and all it has received is silence. My colleague the member for Greenway wrote to the Minister for Communications in April urging those opposite to consider the regional and community media sector to be part of the government's $1 billion regional and community fund. She received no response.

On top of these closures, this government is actively making things worse by cutting funding to the ABC, which is vital to regional Australia. Since 2014, and in breach of their 2013 election promise, the coalition has continually cut the funding to the ABC. Around 1,000 ABC staff have lost their jobs, and community funding cuts total over $780 million from 2013 to 2022. The ABC managing director confirmed that the ABC will have to absorb cumulative budget cuts amounting to $105.9 million per annum by 2022. The hours of ABC factual programming have dropped by 60 per cent, drama has dropped by 20 per cent and documentary has dropped by 13.5 per cent. This will mean even fewer programs and services.

In times of crisis, Australians turn to our national broadcaster for trusted news and information on bushfires, on droughts and on COVID-19. So, instead of cutting the ABC when we need it most, I urge this government to support our national broadcaster. Indeed, the digital platforms inquiry report found that public broadcasters are not currently resourced to fully compensate for the decline in local reporting previously produced by traditional commercial publishers and recommended that stable and adequate funding be provided for the ABC and the SBS. And yet the cuts have continued. Labor continues to call on the Morrison government to reverse these cuts, many of which have deeply affected regional Australia. I would remind those opposite that it was our current Prime Minister who made these cuts when he was Treasurer, in 2018, and then claimed that there were no cuts to the ABC. The ABC chair herself, Ita Buttrose, was forced to release a statement clarifying the facts of the cuts. Even the New South Wales Nationals leader and Deputy Premier has contradicted the Prime Minister's claim.

Finally, the RMIT ABC Fact Check came out to clarify the situation. The Prime Minister and the Minister for Communications, Cyber Safety and the Arts have been caught red-handed misleading the Australian public about ABC funding cuts. RMIT ABC Fact Check found that the government's claim that there are no cuts to the ABC's budget because ABC funding is rising each year to be misleading. In the face of devastating ABC job cuts and service reductions, both the Prime Minister and the minister for communications repeatedly claimed on multiple occasions that there are no cuts and that the ABCs funding is increasing every year. Fact Check found that the budget shows a year-on-year decline in real funding over four years set out in the 2019-20 budget. Budget Paper No. 1 for 2022-23 shows a 10.6 per cent decline in real operational funding, while the portfolio budget statements show a 7.7 per cent decline. So Fact Check concluded that ABC funding decreases year on year in real terms. It therefore can be, and should be, referred to as a cut. This government's arrogance, poor judgement and contempt for the truth are on full display. The Prime Minister's cuts to the ABC are irresponsible, and his denial of ABC cuts is misleading.

The ABC is an essential service that keeps Australians safe and our democracy secure in our cities, in the bush, in the Asia-Pacific region and in my electorate of Corangamite. Cutting the national broadcaster is reckless and irresponsible. Labor will support this bill, but, as I've said, all it does is tinker at the edges. It does nothing to fix the major structural problems besetting our whole media landscape. In particular, it does very little to give regional Australia and my electorate of Corangamite a diverse, reliable, frank and fearless broadcast and print media.

(Quorum formed)

6:35 pm

Photo of Rowan RamseyRowan Ramsey (Grey, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Traditional media is under the pump, not just rurally but right across the board. I listened to those on the other side who spoke on this bill, telling us that some magic form of government regulation is going to change that situation. But it isn't the case. It's like many other facets of our life, where the traditional is under assault from new technologies, and, as things change, we have to adapt to that change. My own industry of agriculture is having to adapt to that incredible change.

In speaking about the value of news sources, I have long thought that the decline in traditional media is an underlying threat to our democracy. What's happening is that the funding sources that paid for traditional media are quite quickly slipping away. If you look at the stable of old Fairfax papers, one of their greatest sources of income was the classifieds. It was called Fairfax's 'river of gold'. They barely exist anymore. It's all gone to this little thing here—the telephone. If you're looking for real estate now, you don't pick up the newspaper; you go straight to the internet. If you're looking for a car, you don't go to the newspaper; you go straight to the internet. Along with that, fewer people are buying newspapers and fewer people are watching traditional television—free-to-air television—because there are so many options. So the advertising dollars are drying up.

The great question for us as a nation is: how do we have reliable news services for people to access? We can fund them, if we wish, directly. We fund the ABC a magnificent amount of money—over a billion dollars a year. I hear people talking about the cuts to the ABC. Every other news organisation in Australia would be very pleased to be putting up with those cuts at the moment, if that's what they are, I can tell you. The question is: what do we fund and how do we fund it? Traditionally, news has funded itself. So many people are not only not buying a reliable news service; the media they are watching does not even supply a news service. It's a challenge for members of parliament to actually communicate with a great many people in their electorates because they're plugged into music. They might be plugged into Spotify. They might be plugged into a local FM radio station that runs a two-minute news service on the hour, or whatever. But, typically, there just is not a news service in their life. I know many people who don't watch any kind of current affairs on television, so their lives are informed by fiction. This is the threat.

So what do we do? We could either plough resources in or direct movement towards the change, which may be inevitable. We may have to find a way for these platforms to fund themselves properly and come up with reputable news services that sit within the platforms, or we can try and do what we can to sustain the current industry. I am a traditionalist, and I am for fighting for what we've got at this stage. If things change enough in the future, perhaps I will change my view. But, at this stage, that's what I think we should be fighting for. The bill before us now is actually dealing with some of that change and the onslaught that they are facing.

We did have a major reform of media ownership only three years ago, which was mentioned by a previous speaker. It was a major reform because no-one had been in that space for more than 10 years. It was quite a significant change. But tonight we're debating a bill about support for regional services. I'm going to touch on newspapers before I go to the content of the bill.

In my electorate, how you classify it is a little difficult, but there would be 10 major titles spread across the electorate. There are some other lesser ones. There is an electronic newspaper at Coober Pedy—a very good one. Of the 10 major titles, two are owned by family companies—the Yorke Peninsula Country Times and the Plains Producer at Balaklava. They are pretty successful papers and they cover big areas. They've still got a very high level of readership. That encourages me that there is a model that works. Having said that, I'm pleased to report they are both accessing JobKeeper, and in recent time they have both been accessing government grants aimed at keeping regional newspapers alive and vibrant. I have spoken to one of the owners. He said, 'We wouldn't be here anymore if it weren't for this federal government.' They are managing to battle on, and I hope they will have a long and illustrious future.

There are another eight titles that are now owned by Australian Community Media, in the former Fairfax Rural Press news stable, which includes a lot of the country newspapers across Australia. I spoke not that long ago to the new owner, Antony Catalano, and he informed that me he bought over 400 titles and paid an awful amount of money for them. Having just paid all that money for them, he really wasn't in the mood to go around closing them all up. He believes in the future of those newspapers, and I wish him well. Of the eight titles that he has in the Grey electorate, one did go into recession, the Port Lincoln Times. Three have reopened—the Whyalla News, The Transcontinental and TheRecorderof Port Pirie. Then there are another four titles, including the West Coast Sentinel, Eyre Peninsula Tribune, the Clare Northern Argus and The Flinders News, which are still in suspension at the moment. When I talked to Antony, he said, 'Had I not suspended publications, we wouldn't be in business anymore right across the board.' That's how serious the COVID virus is for country newspapers, and it's right that we've been in that space. I wish him well; I wish him every success. I urge my local businesses and communities to support those newspapers and to make sure we can get them back up and being successful.

Now I turn to radio, and that's where we come to the legislation that is before us today. Across Grey, I'm fortunate to have some great studios—5CS, 5AU and Magic 105.9 in the Upper Spencer Gulf, managed by Gary Kernahan in Port Augusta; and 5CC and Magic 899, managed by Darren Allard in Port Lincoln. They are very successful and very attuned to their communities. The fact they still carry high levels of advertising is showing us that they know what they are talking about. What we are doing in this case is allowing a little relaxation or flexibility in their local content rules. At the moment, they have a five-week period when they don't have to broadcast local news. Generally speaking, that's from Christmas through to about the end of January. But it doesn't make sense that we are hard and fast on that rule.

It's very important we keep these local news services going. I hesitate to use the word 'insidious' in relation to radio, but it is like a companion—it can be with you in the workplace, it can be with you in the home and it can be with you in the car as you travel. It's very important that we keep a news service sitting within radio programs. I talked before about people that switch off and go to music land or some other area; they are just not getting any news in their life at all.

We've also allowed some leniency around the broadcasting of news on public holidays, without getting into the debate about public holiday loadings in Australia. Let me say that the radio stations face all the same issues that the other businesses do in Australia, and you can see why they're not as keen to operate on public holidays as they might be the rest of the time. Once again, that makes sense. It allows them to manage their budget better, and they will stay in place.

On top of that, across Grey, we have an FM operation, Flow FM. They have multiple repeaters. It goes right through into Victoria as we1l. That operates out of Kapunda. It's a very good operation, and they too will benefit from the introduction of flexibility into their programming. Good luck to all of them. Long may they live. Long may they prosper.

Then, of course, television, in the electorate of Grey, covers—I get to say this in this place every now and then—92.4 per cent of South Australia, which is an area that is about 10 per cent bigger than New South Wales. For a local member, and for a lot of other people as well, it's very important that we keep our local news services on our televisions. We are lucky in the seat of Grey, with Southern Cross Austereo Spencer Gulf located in the primarily Upper Spencer Gulf. They have reporters in Port Lincoln, Whyalla, Port Augusta and Port Pirie. Unlike WIN—and my sympathy goes to those areas that lost their local news services—they have retained their local newsrooms, and they are such an important part of our local communities.

Because of the network size, or the footprint, they were granted an exemption some years ago, which sits within the act, that actually allows this one television station to broadcast Channel 9, GEM, GO!, Channel 10, 10 Peach, 10 Bold, Channel 7, 7mate and 7TWO. The whole lot of the commercial network is coming out of this one television station based in those four separate areas that actually straddle so much of my electorate. It probably covers about 70 per cent of the population, in reality. It's a very good platform. We're very lucky to have it. Once again, may I say to them, long may you prosper and long may you stay in place.

It is important that the legislation that we did past two or three years ago—whenever it was when we had the major media reform—allowed for some ownership changes in the television space. I'm not sure too much has happened in that area yet, but the possibility is there. There has been a lot of talk in the press at different times about one group moving on another, amalgamating with the city forces, but still retaining those local content requirements. As long as they stay in place, I don't particularly care who owns the operation. Let it go to that grouping which can most successfully turn a dollar out of it, quite frankly—that's what it comes back to.

Once again, this legislation before us allows them some flexibility in their local content rules, and so it should. It has been described by those on the other side as help at the edges. If you are under enough pressure I can tell you that any help helps. I don't hear suggestions coming on what else to do. When I started speaking on this bill I was talking about the onslaught of technology, and television, just like the other two technologies, is under great pressure. I'm staying in a hotel in Canberra at the moment—it's not one that I normally stay in, but it's a very, very nice place—and there is Fox Movies on tap there. Cable television is in enough houses. It all undermines the viability of the free-to-air television networks that we so greatly value to deliver the news message to the bulk of Australians. I can't see anybody suggesting—and certainly I'm not—that we've got to get rid of the cable networks or that we've got to get rid of the satellite networks, so that's not going to happen. King Canute drowned—I think that's what happened to him—

An honourable member: And Netflix.

And Netflix. There are multitudes of platforms. Sure, maybe they need more help, but I can tell you that any help that we give is appreciated, and they've fed that news back to me. What I'd like those who say it doesn't go far enough to do is give us some suggestions, and give us some suggestions that won't bedevil the Australian taxpayer with billions of dollars in the future. We have to find a way forward with these issues of technology that confront us in so many areas of our lives.

6:50 pm

Photo of Kate ThwaitesKate Thwaites (Jagajaga, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

[by video link] I'm pleased to be contributing to this debate today on the Broadcasting Services Amendment (Regional Commercial Radio and Other Measures) Bill 2020, because there is no doubt that regional media has been hit by a triple whammy: digital disruption, COVID-19 and, of course, this government, which has done absolutely nothing about it. It's not just regional media that's in crisis; it's Australia's media sector more broadly that's in crisis and, in fact, was in crisis before COVID-19. This government's many failures have left regional media unexpectedly exposed to the effects of both the pandemic and the recession. The result of that is that many communities are now without a local newspaper or radio or television news service, and this is at a time when it is more important than ever that our communities have access to reliable, local, trustworthy information.

While there's nothing in this bill that is objectionable, it's what's not in this bill that's problematic. There's no plan. There's no plan for how this government is going to support regional media through this time of crisis. There's no idea, more broadly, about how this government sees its role in terms of our media sector and the provision of information in our community. This is a really serious issue for our democracy, and it's not an issue that this bill seems to take seriously enough. So while Labor won't stand in the way of these relatively minor amendments to alleviate the regulatory burden on regional broadcasters, I absolutely support the amendment moved by the member for Gellibrand saying that this bill doesn't go nearly far enough to support regional media.

Unlike many of the speakers on this bill, I'm actually not from a regional area, but I'm speaking on this because this is an issue that goes beyond just those who are living in regional areas and affects us all. In fact, we often hear from members on the other side about how regional Australia is the lifeblood of this country. Well, then, why are you abandoning their media sector? Why are you giving away their television, their radio and their newspapers? Why aren't you supporting them more? There's no doubt that regional Australia's hurting and regional Australians are missing out as a result of this government's failures. This decline has happened on this government's watch—newspapers, radio and television all closing and, again, no serious plan to address the decline.

We know from the ACCC that, between 2008 and 2018, 106 local and regional newspaper titles closed across Australia, a net 15 per cent decrease in the number of these publications. That left 21 local government areas which were previously covered by regional media without coverage from a single local newspaper, and that was prior to the pandemic, which, of course, has exacerbated all these problems. So now, according to the Public Interest Journalism Initiative, 200 titles have closed since January 2019. I want to be clear that these closures aren't just numbers. They're missing stories about how our local communities operate. They're a gap in accountability for our local councils. They're a lack of space for a community to raise early warning signs about trouble at the local hospital.

I've worked as a regional journalist—it's where I started my career—and I know how important these services are to making communities strong. At their very best they contribute to creating a sense of community. They support local businesses, sporting clubs, business endeavours and community groups. They are really the lifeblood of these communities, and they're closing on this government's watch. They're the place where a lot of journalists get their training. I know that, when I was working in regional areas, I was lucky enough to be supported by a wonderful team—by editors, subeditors and all the people who helped me become really good at my job. Without that infrastructure in place and without the support for the sector more broadly, where's our next generation of journalists going to come from? We're going to need strong media in this country over the coming years and decades; where's the support for that? We are just not seeing it from this government.

We know that, when traditional media is not there and we don't have independent sources of news and information, people turn to sources of disinformation and misinformation. That's dangerous, particularly now when we're in the middle of a pandemic. I know that some of the members opposite don't seem to have a problem with sharing misinformation or disinformation, but it is a problem. We do need trustworthy, reliable information, and we need that in our regions as well as in our capital cities.

Previously, Australians in regional areas could have relied on the ABC for their local news services—but not under this government. Since 2014, around 800 ABC staff have lost their jobs. The number of hours of ABC factual programming has dropped by 60 per cent, drama by 20 per cent and documentary by 13.5 per cent. We know, again from the ACCC digital platforms inquiry, that ABC funding is not currently resourced to fully compensate for the decline in local reporting previously produced by traditional commercial publishers. And, of course, that inquiry recommended that stable and adequate funding be provided to the ABC and SBS. Yet what is this government doing? The latest round of budget cuts was $83.7 million, forcing another round of redundancies at the ABC. What we have seen since 2014, when this government first started cutting the ABC's budget, is cut after cut after cut, and that's journalists gone and regional newsrooms closed down.

We know, and we've seen just this summer, that some of the services the ABC provides in regional areas are literally life-saving. They're the people on the ground who understand these communities in times of crisis such as bushfires. I know I, like many people around our country, was glued to the ABC's coverage last summer because I knew that they understood what was happening in their communities and that the information they were providing about what was happening in that deadly time was accurate. Under this government, it's becoming harder and harder for the ABC to supply these services.

We know these cuts are ideologically driven. This government has decided that it doesn't like the ABC—it doesn't think it agrees with it—so it's doing everything it can to undermine it. Well, I think you've misread the mood of the Australian people. People love the ABC. It is still the No. 1 issue that people raise with me. Earlier this year, before we all had to socially distance, I held a rally in my community to save the ABC. Hundreds of people turned up, because this is an issue that people care about. They are passionate about saving the ABC and they are passionate about saving the ABC from this government. I will certainly do all I can to make sure that the ABC is funded properly and that it is allowed to operate independently, because, as a society, we need this news service. We need independent, accurate news, and our regions need this service as well.

Of course we know the government has a pile of reviews and recommendations about regional media at its disposal to choose from, but it really hasn't come up with a plan for our media sector. We've got bits and pieces of change ahead of us here, but nothing substantial—nothing that's going to make the changes that we need to see for a strong and healthy regional media, and indeed a healthy media sector across our country more broadly.

Another area that this government has left out in terms of our media sector is community television. Again, this is something that people in my community feel quite passionately about. Channel 31 here in Melbourne is respected and loved by a lot of people. It's where, in fact, a lot of media people got their start and their training—a really important service to our community. Again, particularly at this time, when we see a decline in the media more broadly and local newsrooms closing, why would we not support a community television service? But in fact that's what's been happening under this government. They have tried to take away this important community local service from us. At a time when social cohesion, national culture and our identity needed to be fostered, this government was trying to take away the signal for community television and instead put it online.

I heard, very clearly, from people involved in community TV and also from those who watch this service—particularly older people, who are not used to watching online—what a change that would mean for them. It would mean that their service was really no longer what they were looking for and relying on. That really is just a broad indication of how this government views media and how it views it as a service to our community—not as something that needs to be supported and not as something it needs to think about. 'Yes, this is a time of disruption; things are changing and the traditional model is being disrupted and doesn't provide the revenue that it once did.' Where is the thinking by this government about how it steps in and supports a broader media sector in our regions and in communities like mine?

It's time for the government to put its money where its mouth is. We don't need piecemeal changes like this; we need a broader plan for how this government will support storytelling in communities across our country. Without it, we're at risk of being exposed to misinformation and disinformation. We're at risk of people pushing agendas and we're at risk in times of crisis—in a pandemic, in a bushfire—of people missing out on information that could literally save lives. Is that something this government wants to be responsible for?

There is more that this government could be doing to support our media sector and there is more that it could be doing to support our ABC. In fact, it is vitally important that this government fund the ABC adequately and that it make sure the ABC can employ the journalists it needs in our regional centres and our cities across the country so that we get accurate and timely information. It's time for the government to think much more broadly about how it supports this sector and what the overall plan is, rather than piecemeal reform. If the government really cared about regional and rural media, it would include the broader sector as part of the regional grants it's been putting out there, but that hasn't happened either. It's time for the government to come up with that broader plan and the broader suggestions about support. Otherwise, I fear that there won't be a next generation of regional journalists or a generation of people like me who learnt how to do our jobs in regional areas, who got to talk about and support communities and who were part of the infrastructure that kept local businesses going. We told the stories of local sporting clubs, went to the local council meetings each week and did all those things that actually help to keep our communities ticking over.

If we don't do something now those services will not be there in the future. Perhaps we will be running off a local Facebook page—perhaps, if those communities are lucky. They certainly won't have a regional television service. Unfortunately, many of them already don't because of the failures of this government. They won't have a regional radio service; again, too many of those have closed. They won't have a regional newspaper; newspapers which have existed in our country for decades now are closing on this government's watch. I'm amazed that people in the government, particularly those who say they stand up for regional and rural Australians, think that's acceptable. I'm amazed that they think they're doing enough and that this bill does enough. It doesn't. We need a much more comprehensive plan. Our media is in danger and it's time for this government to step up.

7:03 pm

Photo of Ms Catherine KingMs Catherine King (Ballarat, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development) Share this | | Hansard source

[by video link] I too rise to speak on the Broadcasting Services Amendment (Regional Commercial Radio and Other Measures) Bill 2020. It's a delight to follow the member for Jagajaga, who, alongside the member for Paterson and, I think, also the member for Macquarie, actually cut her teeth on journalism in our regions and feels so passionately about it.

This bill amends the Broadcasting Services Act, and it does so with a range of deregulatory measures to ease the regulatory and compliance burden on regional commercial radio and regional commercial television broadcasters. It has sat on the Notice Paper, I note, for quite some time. Once again, this government has served up regulatory housekeeping when major reform is needed. Once again, this government has dithered at delays on genuine reform when industry is crying out for uncertainty to end. Regional media—including regional commercial radio, regional newspapers and regional commercial television and community television—are in crisis today.

As Labor have said, we won't oppose this bill—we don't want to stand in the way of what are relatively minor regulatory amendments to alleviate regulatory burden on regional broadcasters, particularly in the face of market failure of regional commercial television—but we are concerned that regional Australians are missing out as a result of the government's ongoing failure to actually support regional media. This is late, it's inadequate and it sells regional Australians short.

It's late because the government and everyone in the regions have known about this problem for years. The government has known since at least 2017, but it's only finally getting around to doing something about the issue now. The bill is inadequate because it merely tinkers with the problems in regional broadcasting and media. There are some big problems here, and they will require wholesale reform. But, instead of doing the hard yards to reform the legislative framework, the government is again shifting the deckchairs. All the government knows how to do is to dismantle piece by piece. Finally, this bill sells regional Australia short. It sells regional Australia short because it assumes that, where broadcasters face challenges in meeting Australian content requirements, the answer is to relax the content requirements rather than to assist broadcasters to bridge the gap somehow or to undertake genuine reform to address these structural challenges. When faced with the problem that some regional broadcasters are finding it difficult to satisfy their transmission quota, what does the government do? It looks to relax the consumer safeguard, not support these broadcasters to reach the consumer safeguard.

While the bill doesn't lower the amount of local content that is currently available to regional audiences of regional commercial radio, it does permit a reduction in the number of hours of Australian content on regional commercial television that is currently available to regional audiences. At best, this will only be an indirect and modest reduction in the number of hours of repeat Australian content or simulcast content already available to regional audiences—content that is currently used as filler to make up the hours to satisfy quota. At worst, though, it may have unintended consequences and result in a significant reduction in the number of hours of Australian content available on regional commercial television. This may lead to regional and remote licensees reducing the number of multichannels they carry, particularly if they're unprofitable. Or we could see metropolitan networks further diluting the Australian content they broadcast on their multichannels. Worryingly, we could see regional and remote audiences being deprived of first-release Australian drama, children's or documentary content. It is clear that regional media is facing challenges, partly as a result of the government's failure to keep the regulatory framework up to date, and regional Australians are missing out as a result. The bill does not do enough.

I live in a regional community. I'm speaking in this parliament from one at the moment. I'm very proud to represent the regional community of Ballarat. I know firsthand how important local media is to my community and the communities that I represent. Regional local journalists tell our stories. They examine and inform us about our communities. They report on issues that might not get a lot of attention from the metro papers but which make a real difference to our lives. That has been incredibly important, particularly here in Victoria at the moment as we go through stage 3 lockdowns in the regions—being able to communicate with each other, to tell our stories, to tell the wonderful things that people are doing in the face of really difficult times.

When I look around the country at the paper closures that are hitting regions across Australia under this government, I realise that, while Ballarat has been lucky to keep our 150-year-old major newspaper, that does not mean that we've been unscathed. We've lost 140 jobs with the closure of ACM's print site. ABC cuts have hurt every regional community. Jobs have been lost in commercial media, such as at 3BA, our radio station. We've had our losses, but I know Ballarat and the small towns that make up my electorate are largely still lucky to have a range of locally based news, with proud old newspapers like The Courier; quality small publications like the Ballarat Timesor The Ballarat News, the new online News Corp paper; and a range of community and local papers in other smaller towns that I could name. At the same time, we are lucky to have two local nightly television bulletins, a range of locally based commercial and public radio broadcasters and a strong local ABC that is focused on telling our stories.

Despite the success of our outlets, we're still facing job losses—most recently, as I said, with the closure of ACM printing in Ballarat and the loss of over 100 staff. We see that our news service from 3BA is mostly coming out of Geelong. We see that on WIN TV the broadcast news is mostly coming out of Wollongong. My thoughts are with many of the workers who have lost their jobs, particularly at ACM most recently and across the course of this pandemic. I fear that those won't be the last in regional media in our community.

Regional media across the country has been hit by a triple whammy of digital disruption, COVID-19 and, frankly, a government who couldn't care less. The crisis in Australia's media began long before the pandemic; indeed it is the many failures of the government when it comes to regional media that have left the sector so exposed to these sorts of shocks. These trends have been felt everywhere, but nowhere have they been felt more acutely than in our regions. Regional media in Australia has been pushed to the brink of market failure by this government's inaction, as the bill's own explanatory memorandum actually notes.

Data collection by the ACCC shows that, between 2008 and 2018, 106 local and regional newspaper titles closed across Australia, representing a net 15 per cent decrease in the number of those publications. These closures have left 21 local government areas previously covered by these titles without coverage from a single local newspaper in either print or online formats, including 16 local government areas in regional Australia. Since 2018 it has gotten even worse. According to the Public Interest Journalism Initiative, 200 titles have closed since January 2019. The number of contractions in the Australian public interest news landscape has grown to over 200 since January 2019, according to data from the Public Interest Journalism Initiative's Australian Newsroom Mapping Project. These 200 titles gave people jobs, kept their communities informed and kept local public figures honest. COVID has seen even more closures. Many of these papers are more than a century old. For over a century they've told the stories of their communities, but under the watch of the government they're closing, with many never to reopen.

Media is essential to our democracy, particularly in regional areas, but under this government that doesn't seem to matter. Media diversity in regional and remote areas is at or below the minimum number of voices in 68 per cent of licence areas, and multiple local television stations have closed their doors. On this government's watch, we have news deserts emerging, widespread closures of newspapers, closure and consolidation of multiple television news rooms and mass sackings of journalists. It's a devastating loss for many local communities and for our stories, culture and democracy.

For many regions, the ABC has historically provided a local trusted voice, but in the midst of this crisis the government is actively making things worse by repeatedly cutting ABC funding. Since 2014, around 800 ABC staff have lost their jobs; the Australia Network has been axed; short-wave radio has been shut down; and the number of hours of ABC factual programming has dropped by 60 per cent, drama has dropped by 20 per cent and documentary has dropped by 13.5 per cent. The final report of the ACCC's digital platforms inquiry examined ABC funding and found:

Further, the public broadcasters are not currently resourced to fully compensate for the decline in local reporting previously produced by traditional commercial publishers.

They recommended 'that stable and adequate funding be provided to the ABC and SBS'. The government needs to listen to that report.

Earlier this year the royal commission heard that the ABC saved lives over the summer of fires, but just a week later—a week later—the Morrison government was back with further cuts. These cuts hurt our regions more than anywhere else. The crisis requires a relief response. Labor welcomes the relief announced by the government, but it is inadequate and much more is needed.

While we are not opposing these bills, as I said, I do join with my colleagues in imploring the government to go further and to save regional media; to understand that it is regional voices that are important to be heard, whether it be in this place, in our national parliament, or whether it be in our own homes, to hear those local stories and to provide that opportunity for us to tell those stories to the nation and to the world.

I remember the Liberal government opened the ABC radio station here in Ballarat. It was a terrific day to actually have an expansion of ABC services into our community. To have an ABC regional radio presence in Ballarat was cause for much celebration. We love having it here. But one of the things that was also supposed to happen, and was to happen in regional communities across the country, was that we were, in fact, also going to have a small regional ABC TV studio being able to broadcast people who live in regions and country towns—such as that of even the Deputy Speaker, I suspect—to be able to go into that ABC studio and be able to broadcast our voices to the nation and to the world from our homes. As a direct result of the cuts of the government that work was immediately put on hold. So it's not just about the cuts that the government has given to the ABC and the cuts that we're seeing are shrinking the service, it's the loss of opportunity to expand those services and for the ABC to make up for the gaps—the news services deserts we're seeing because of the collapse in commercial media across the country.

The government does need to act to ensure that regional voices and regional diversity is maintained in this country. So far what we've seen from the government is, again, the tinkering around the edges: no reform, small amounts of work to try and fix problems as they come up, but no real sense about what is important here in ensuring that we continue to have regional voices and regional media across the country.

7:17 pm

Photo of Tanya PlibersekTanya Plibersek (Sydney, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Education and Training) Share this | | Hansard source

This bill amends the Broadcasting Services Act and the Australian Communications and Media Authority Act with a series of regulatory changes for television and radio stations in regional Australia. These changes ease some of the compliance measures for local content without lowering the overall content requirements. As my colleague said, we won't be opposing the bill, although we have some concerns about it.

I wanted to speak tonight about the value of local media organisations to their communities—to regional communities, to country areas, but also in suburban areas. Having a local lens on news and current affairs, on what's happening in the local community, is so important and so valuable, and we really do have to protect it.

In the almost six years that I was Deputy Leader of the Labor Party I travelled all over Australia, pretty much five or six or seven days a week, and on those travels I spoke to many, many fine local journalists, people who could have worked anywhere in Australia. They would have been at home here in the press gallery, they would have been at home in a major metropolitan newsroom, but they chose to stay in their communities because they were so deeply committed to their communities, proud of their communities, part of their communities. So tonight I really wanted to give a shout-out to them, to the phenomenally valuable role that they play in our media universe here in Australia. It is one of the most important things in a democracy like ours to have a strong, vibrant, free and fair media, and so much of that is done at the local level. If we don't have local media, we don't have scrutiny of decision-making at a grassroots level and we don't have that focus of communication, that centre of communication that spreads out throughout our communities and holds those communities together.

Yesterday I spoke to Murray Jones from 4CA radio in Cairns. Murray has interviewed me many times over the years. He is a tough interviewer but he is fair. I think it's great to have people who have that perspective on their local community. I always loved speaking to Martin Agatyn, at 7AD in Devonport, on those trips across Northern and north-west Tasmania, or Brian Carlton. I know Brian is not in Launceston anymore; he has moved to Hobart. There was no fiercer advocate for people who lived in Launceston than Brian. I always enjoyed sparring with him. There was also 101.5 FM in Caboolture and 4RO in Rockhampton. I've got favourites that I've met along the way. What unites them is not that they gave me an easy time, or that it was an easy interview or that they agreed with me; it is that they were so passionately committed to their local communities. You could hear it in the questions they asked and the arguments they made.

When you look at the scale of the crisis that is impacting on regional media at the moment, you can see how very important it is that we do what we can to protect and preserve the diversity of voices that we have in this country. In May, News Corp announced massive changes to its roster of community and regional newspapers. Sadly, 125 newspapers are either being closed or becoming digital only, with hundreds of jobs being lost in the process. This is not a criticism of News Corp; this is what's happening in our media environment in Australia at the moment. Advertising revenue is gone, and it's very difficult. If people aren't prepared to pay for good journalism, they will lose good journalism. This is a tragedy for every one of these towns—towns that will no longer record there own story. They will know longer have a physical memory of their history. Some are losing a particularly long heritage. The Rockhampton Morning Bulletin has been in print since 1860, the Daily Mercury in Mackay has been in print since 1867 and The Northern Star in Lismore has been in print since 1876. No longer will these newspapers, older than Federation itself, be sold by local newsagents—and it's a tragedy.

In total, Australia has lost more than 200 mastheads over the past year, by closure, by merger or by the end of print editions. We almost lost AAP, which is the lifeblood of our media; it means smaller publications can report on events that they can't physically attend or can't physically photograph. In June we learnt that the ABC had been forced to cut another 250 jobs across news, entertainment and regional divisions. Since 2013, after Tony Abbott famously said there'd be no cuts to the ABC or the SBS, funding cuts to the ABC have caused the loss of around 800 jobs from that organisation and reduced the number of hours of factual reporting by about 60 per cent. Funding the ABC is one of the most direct and important ways that the government can help regional media.

It's disappointing to see the speakers list tonight. I would've hoped there would be a list of Nationals talking about protecting the ABC, their local mastheads, local radio stations and local TV content. Sadly, the Nationals have let us down again with characteristic silence when it comes to standing up for the bush.

The crisis in our news media is hurting everyone, from small towns to local papers in our cities. In my own electorate, in the heart of the busiest city in the country, papers like The South Sydney Herald, Star Observer and City Hub are all feeling these financial pressures as well. What I'd like to see is the power of local government, in this instance, supporting these vital local news outlets. Councils, for instance, are among the biggest advertisers in local papers. And yet, in Sydney, the papers I've just named—The South Sydney Herald, Star Observer andCity Hubhave barely benefited at all from the City of Sydney Council's $1.76 million advertising budget. Can you imagine how disappointing that would be if you were running these fantastic local papers, some of them almost entirely run by volunteers, like The South Sydney Herald, for example, which is almost entirely run and distributed by volunteers? You really would think, given how widely read these papers are, that the City of Sydney Council would help them and support them through a mutually beneficial arrangement where the council gets good-value advertising in these local papers. But no.

The Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance are doing all they can to help people affected by these cuts. Their members are really facing a very strong tide. Our media environment has changed fundamentally in recent years. We all need to do our bit to be better here. The Commonwealth government, of course, should be doing everything it can to ensure that we protect the diversity of media voices in this country. That means radio and television in regional areas. It means local newspapers in regional areas. But we shouldn't confine ourselves to only thinking about regional areas, because your average suburban newspaper is also under phenomenal pressure in an environment where advertising revenue has shrunk dramatically and the big social media companies are trying to make sure that they get away with not paying for news media content.

What's left? What's left is an impoverished public debate and an impoverished record of the history of our nation, because we're not prepared to invest in it. If we lose local media, we will be losing a service that is essential to the functioning of democracy in Australia. Community newspapers record births and deaths. They scrutinise local elections and council budgets. They report on sporting premierships and school awards nights. They investigate development decisions and the people who make them. They look at what we need to do to protect local amenity and local environment. No democracy can survive without this crucial witness. Democracy depends on a flourishing news media with the staffing and resources it needs to do its job properly. The world might be becoming more connected and we might all be more plugged into national and global politics, but so much of our lives is still lived locally. If we don't act decisively, with legislation more serious than this, we won't have anyone left to cover our local communities, and I'm sure we would all regret that.

7:27 pm

Photo of Luke GoslingLuke Gosling (Solomon, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank the member for Sydney for a fine defence and advocacy for local community radio, newspapers and television, and that's what I want to do as well—to focus on community broadcasting, which honourable members should know is Australia's largest independent media sector and a key pillar in the Australian media landscape. There are over 450 community radio services across Australia, 76 per cent of which are in regional and remote communities. In my community, in Darwin and Palmerston, community radio supports jobs. Around the country, it supports maybe as many as 700 full-time jobs, and some very good people in my electorate are employed in community radio. As happens everywhere else in Australia, loads of Territorians tune in every day to community radio. When I think about community radio in my electorate, I know how many people enjoy tuning in to 104.1 Territory FM. They're a great radio station, and I take my hat off to them. They provide a great news service and great music, and they're very much appreciated in our community. Along with the commercial media, community radio services have faced significant challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has impacted significantly on their resources, staffing, and volunteers.

Debate interrupted.