I’m here today to speak about the importance of local journalism and local news. I have a great appreciation for the work that journalists do—and there is a little bit of self-appreciation in that, as I started my working life as a journalist. I spent a number of years working in community radio and at the ABC, including working at regional services for the ABC. So I have a great appreciation for the job of journalists to hold people like us to account and to make sure that there is scrutiny of the work we do and that communities are informed about what is happening, and particularly that communities are informed about what is happening in their place locally. I think there is a really important job that journalists and local community news outlets do which helps to build a sense of community and a knowledge of what is happening in your area.

Journalists tell the stories of people—the stories of those we can celebrate for doing wonderful things, the stories of those who need an advocate in their corner helping them make the case for change. They keep us informed of vital things such as bushfire and emergency warnings but also things that help build our community like local markets, local events. However, what we’ve seen recently is an acceleration of what has already been a trend: local newspapers and local news outlets are closing their doors. Local media has been struggling for some time. With the shift to online, the money just hasn’t been there for local newspapers to continue to operate. People are changing their news habits, and advertisers, more importantly, are shifting their dollars.

So the model that we used to see, where a community like mine in Jagajaga would have had two or three local papers, just doesn’t exist anymore. The local papers that were there in my community are no longer there. I have people in the community come up to me and say how much they miss this service, that it was a place where they found out what was going on locally, where a lens was held over the local council so that they knew what was happening there and where they found out how they could get involved in their neighbourhood. Getting that information from Facebook is obviously just not the same. It is a different context. It is not filtered through the professionalism of local journalism and local news.

I am pleased to say that there is a green shoot of hope in my electorate, in the north-east of Melbourne. CopperLine News is a new monthly newspaper covering the Eltham area, and its first edition was published at the end of 2022. I’m really proud to be a supporter of its team and the work they do. CopperLineactually came about after the community got together and identified that they wanted and needed a local paper on the scene in Eltham. Those people got a committee together and, as a result of that, they have established this local newspaper. I’m really pleased to supportCopperLine, and I know that, across my electorate, there are many other areas where people would be keen to do similar and are probably looking for support to do similar. That is something that, across Australia, we should absolutely be looking at as a government and thinking about how we can support these initiatives and make sure that local news continues to be a part of our landscape.

It’s not just in my electorate that there are some green shoots. There are stories of local journalists who have had their local paper axed by one of the media companies but who have now said: ‘Hang on. I can still tell my local stories. I can still be a part of this really important resource for my community, whether this be in print or online.’ There are a number of communities where this is happening. But of course it is a tough ask for these people to step in where once established news were and to set up their own newspaper, whether that be online or in print.

Here in Canberra I recently had a meeting with the Local & Independent News Association, LINA, who have recently formed to try and help local operators of independent news online and highlight the fact that these people really are trying to fill that gap and they are doing it with not that much support. They also want to encourage others to do this in their own communities. So I place on the record my support for the work they’re doing and my encouragement for them to continue.

I am a proud supporter of public interest journalism, and it is something our government is investing in. We have delivered a dedicated $15 million grant program supporting over 200 publications operating in the regional and local news space, and we are doing work to get a better idea of our news media landscape and what that looks like in our country. There is more work to be done. It is important for our communities. It is important for our democracy. It is important for how people get to see the work we do in this place and the work that happens in their local communities. I am hopeful that we will see more initiatives like CopperLine in my community to bring us our local news.

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