Federal Member For Banks
Shadow Minister for Communications

Shadow Minister for Communications, Speech – LINA Summit, Surry Hills, Sydney

E&OE

Good afternoon everyone. It’s really nice to be here today.  I start out by acknowledging the Traditional Custodians of the land on which we meet.  To Jon, the Chair of LINA and Claire, the Executive Director. It is really good that this organisation exists.

It is fascinating for me, having worked in the media, pretty much all my career before going into politics, to see how this sector is now flourishing. It’s a sector that I’ll come back to in a second. But it’s a sector that I actually thought about in a work sense quite a long time ago, more than a decade ago when I was with PBL. And to see how it’s really flourishing and that we have so many startups that are running digital-only and some mixed print-digital news services, it is really fantastic. I think it’s clearly, from what I can gather a very practical, action-oriented organisation, you can see that from the agenda items you have on the conference, so it’s really that it’s around.

I worked in a sector for about 15 years. I worked briefly in management consulting when I finished uni. But then, in the late 90s, I joined a company called LookSmart, which was a search engine. An Australian search engine. This was actually in a pre-Google world.

So back then Looksmart was actually one of the top websites by traffic in the world, and it was started by Australians. It was about the tenth biggest website, tenth most trafficked website in the world, listed on the NASDAQ in 1999. And my role was in business development.

So, I went into online retail, which I worked with in the early 2000s, and then had my own consulting business for a while, and then I actually worked with PBL which then became Nine Entertainment from 2005 to 2013. And basically, my role there was digital, particularly in digital media, and I had different titles along the way, but it was about the future of the media, where’s it going to go, what’s going to happen to traditional media businesses? How should PBL/Nine position itself in that future? And this issue really confronted us in the context of what was then ACP magazines.  I think some of you are from traditional publishing businesses, and we also had the issue of massive magazine business called ACP with dozens and dozens of very popular titles, and extremely profitable businesses. But we were starting to see changes in that sector back then.

Around the 2009-2010 period it was really starting to become quite significant and it was becoming obvious that the magazine business was frankly going to have some significant challenges in the future. We looked at some digital-only models in magazines, experimented with some early digital magazines on iPads where you could flick through the page. We hoped to just transfer the magazine audience onto the iPad, still paying six or seven bucks as a subscriber. But that proved to be difficult.

And then through ninemsn, on which I was on the board for a number of years and then was a Chair, we similarly started some news models and had a political news section. We had quite a large news section. It was actually Max Uechtritz who was the Head of News at the ABC – actually working at ninemsn for a while as Head of News. That was probably about 2010. And so we were very early in trying to really trying to seed this sector.

We also looked at digital-only news which is pretty much the precise model as I understand, which many of you do, but on a larger scale. Some big regional centres, places like Newcastle, or Geelong, or wherever.  We didn’t progress all those models but it was something we were thinking about then.

And I was just saying to Grahame from Communications Day, the big examples of that digital-only model that we think of today, are things like Brisbane Times and WA Today, and obviously some of you are starting to build those up as well. So, it’s a really good thing to see the that the sector is developing.

The last thing I did, we’ve seen change in video as well in television business, so pretty much the last thing I did was get approval for what ultimately became Stan. Just as the streaming sector was really kicking off about ten years ago.

I think what you’re doing is really important. The reality is that there have been significant changes in the media sector.  It’s probably only in relatively recent years that it has been viable to run smaller digital publishers and sustain those through advertising and increasingly through some subscription and other direct financial support from your readers.

So, I guess what I would say, as someone who has thought about this sector a lot, very supportive of it, and certainly see a role for government in terms of the support for the sector. The previous Coalition government obviously had a number of important initiatives, including with the Public Interest New Gathering program and a number of other programs as well.  And I think there’s a continuing need for that. We of course did the Regional and Small Publishers Jobs and Innovation Package, including the Regional and Small Publishers Innovation Fund, scholarships for cadets, and so on.

I welcome the announcement from Minister Rowland this morning in relation to LINA. I think that it is appropriate that there is some support at that strategic industry level for this sector as it evolves, in the same way as there has been support for other sectors in the past.

It’s really important, of course that, that support is objective and understandable, provided on a rational basis, and it’s transparent and so on. Certainly, part of my role as the Opposition person responsible for Communications is to hold the government to account in that respect to make sure that these sorts of programs are managed in an efficient and transparent fashion, but certainly the principle is that is welcome.

I think the other thing that’s probably quite a topical at the moment is the of the news media bargaining code. Obviously, we put that in place as a government and as you’d be familiar with the fact that that was quite unique around the world and some others have looked to adopt similar things since. I’m aware that in the sector with smaller publishers, and whilst larger publishers have generally been able to make use of those provisions, that hasn’t always been the case. The smaller publishers, you’d be familiar with the review that was published in late December, looking at the operation of the news bargaining code, so we look forward to the government’s response on that and the extent to which it considers how might that continue to apply and should its operation be extended and that’s something we look forward to.

Public Interest Journalism is extremely important. It’s probably a bit of a cliche to say, but everyone says it, like many cliches it’s true, and that is we can’t have a flourishing democracy without a flourishing media sector. And you can’t have that just at the macro at national level you need it at the local level too.

Like many Members of Parliament, I’ve noticed in the time I’ve been in Parliament, the reducing number of local papers in my electorate, and the reducing, I guess, avenues for that sort of debate and public issues analysis of local policies and so on. And it’s really important that just as we analyse multi-billion dollar plans, we also analyse whether there really should be a set of traffic lights at that intersection or whether it should be a roundabout or whatever because that’s important.

I know that as a Member of Parliament and you know as local journalists, that many of the things that engage people in their daily lives are very local in nature and just because they’re not on national news, doesn’t mean they’re not important, very important. And if you forget that as a local MP you won’t be an MP for very long, and I think it’s also true in journalism that it’s so important to maintain that local engagement.

I must admit that before I met with Claire a few weeks ago, and had a chat about LINA and all the work that is going on, I wasn’t aware that there were as many seemingly flourishing small startups that are representing parts of Sydney or regional areas or parts of Melbourne. Seems like pretty new, over the last couple of years. That’s great because it suggests we’ve reached the tipping point where it becomes viable. And you would think over time, it just gets more and more viable as more spending moves online and as more people spend more time online.

So, if you are able to make it viable now, to me that suggests that future looks pretty bright for the industry for you, and you would hope that it would get more viable over time.

So, thank you for inviting me along today. I feel very passionately about this sector as someone who’s worked in it.  My job has two key elements.  One, is to hold the government to account; two is to develop policy for the Coalition in Opposition in advance of the next election. And certainly in doing that, I will be thinking very carefully about the role of local journalism and talking with LINA about the views of the sector and where that intersection is between it and government. Because a lot of what you do is not about government, it’s about you going out and making it happen. But clearly, there is some intersection, there is some role for government in support of public interest journalism as the Coalition has done in the past and as I dare say, we will seek to do in the future.

So thank you for inviting me. Thanks for the LINA for putting this together in such a short period of time, after having only existed for less than two years, which is very impressive, and I look forward to staying in touch.

The Hon. David Coleman MP
Shadow Minister for Communications
Federal Member for Banks