Shadow Minister for Communications, Transcript – FLOW FM, SA, Wayne Phillips – The shutdown of Spencer Gulf Nightly News, Mobile Black Spot Program, The Voice

Subjects: The shutdown of Spencer Gulf Nightly NewsMobile Black Spot Program, The Voice

E&OE…

Wayne Phillips: We go to a very important issue that we began our program with today about the loss of voices in the regions. We’re talking here about the media voices rather than the new Voice that has been created in Canberra. But somebody who is concerned about the loss of journalists in our regional TV stations and radio and appears some other media that we are losing in the regions and it does follow last week, the Thursday announcement by Southern Cross Austereo of the closure of their Port Pirie news gathering facility. So, we welcome to the program today in his role as Shadow spokesperson on this and it’s David Coleman. Hi, David, how are you?

David Coleman: I’m good Wayne. Great to be with you.

Wayne Phillips: Well, this is a really important time for the regions and one we’re seeing another newsroom go as Spencer Gulf with no knowledge. The newsreader that brought the actual news service Madeline Kerr on the Southern Cross television out of its Port Pirie studios. She finished on Thursday night last week and then suddenly, an announcement by Southern Cross Austereo that it confirmed that it would discontinue its weekday news bulletin. Another loss of a local media voice.

David Coleman: Yeah, well, that’s right Wayne and it’s devastating news for the Spencer Gulf region, obviously. I spent a lot of time discussing this with Rowan Ramsey when the news first came out and obviously it’s incredibly disappointing. Rowan and the whole community is very angry about this. And, frankly, we’re very concerned that the Government’s basically done nothing about it. There’s a whole history of issues in terms of regional media and support for regional media. When we were in Government, we had the $50 million Public Interest News Gathering Program and that was very successful including funding towards the Southern Cross. But this Government has a lot of motherhood statements about how important regional media is, but there’s no meat on the bones. And it appears from what we can gather that the government hasn’t really lifted a finger to do anything here.

Wayne Phillips: Well, I want to ask you about that Public Interest News Gathering Grant system because just two years later after that $20 million for regional television, which Southern Cross Austereo was a major recipient, just two years later, they’ve closed the newsroom. Surely when that policy was put forward, your Government at the time should have had some clause within it that gave money out, our taxpayer money out to a news studio, surely would have tied it to some length of service for the journalists in that area?

David Coleman: Well, that was particularly around the COVID period when things were particularly difficult and we needed to provide additional assistance. But the reality is, as you know Wayne, regional media is really tough. At the moment, the rise of Google and Facebook and other digital platforms are making things very difficult for regional media and if we accept as a society, which we do, that regional media is important, then what Governments have got to do is lean forward and take some action to ensure that those regional voices continue to exist. And we did that during that COVID period, but this Government’s been in for nearly a year now so they’re not the new kids on the block anymore. They’re very much the Government of Australia, for more than 300 days. And it doesn’t appear to be a case of the Government offering something and there being a negotiation or there being discussions. It appears that the Government hasn’t done anything at all. And I read with interest the comments that the Minister Michelle Rowland gave to your local media about this issue. And to be frank, if you read those comments it basically says, basically nothing. It’s sort of a bunch of motherhood statements, ‘we’ll look into it’, but that’s no comfort for the people of the Spencer Gulf who aren’t going to have that regional news anymore.

Wayne Phillips: So, they blame your Government for 10 years of inaction. And they say that, unlike our predecessors, talking of your Government, and it’s presiding over communications that you are cherry picking with deregulation and reviews and recommendations that piled up. But their Government is recognising the critical role that regional broadcasters play in their communities and the need for Government to do its job. So, they’re in effect, saying that you didn’t do your job, because of the failures of say, the Ping Program and the Innovation Fund, innovation of which didn’t ultimately get to most of the intended recipients and many that did apply for it that were quite qualified in application were rejected under your Government’s program. So, they are making a strident point about that and, saying, well, there is something about this that you should take responsibility for.

David Coleman: Yeah Wayne, well look, I don’t want to bore the listeners by actually reading out the Minister’s comments. But as I said, I mean it really doesn’t say anything at all. And the Government, it doesn’t matter what the policy is, their standard line, of course, is to blame the previous Government and you can probably get away with that for a few months when you come into Government, but you can’t get away with it a year later. And as you mentioned, with not only the Public Interest News Gathering Program, but regional and small publishers jobs innovation package, which was $60 million, so no one can say that, we didn’t take significant action in this area- we did. The problem is we’ve got a new Government that’s been around for a year and hasn’t done anything. And to basically be saying, as a new Government, ‘hey, we’re going to do a bunch of reviews’. Well, people deserve and expect better than that. And this Government is sort of generating a reputation for being the Government for roundtables, the Government for committees, the Government for consultation papers, but part of Government is not just talking about stuff, it’s about doing stuff. We did a lot in this area. I think this Government should have continued with that work. I think that this could have been avoided with a more proactive Government. And I think it’s very sad for the community.

Wayne Phillips: Okay, so they say that they’re moving to increase some services. The ABC has been in the October budget put forward by them. It was given renewed regional services, community radio was also given money and community television. And now regional newspapers are being looked at in that line. And the Minister also went to a recent conference of what were Local and Independent News Association, a new group, LINA, that seems to be aligned with community broadcasting and community television. Are we seeing an ideological move here? Where those within the commercial sector that do actually make money out of say, advertising and therefore in affect running two businesses, they’re running a journalist broadcast business on one side and then running an advertising business with the number of listeners that they can generate? Are we seeing, in a sense a collapse of some of the commercial, because say Governments and others are pushing the ABC and the community sector, would it be fair to say that we are actually seeing that with the current Government.

David Coleman: Well, I think there’s nothing wrong with supporting the community sector. The community sector does a lot of good work but as you say, the vast bulk of the media outside of the ABC is commercial media. And the truth is that regional commercial media has always been a difficult business, but it’s even more difficult now. A big part of that is the rise of digital. As we know the digital platforms, they don’t do that same job of providing local news in the way that local commercial media does. And so, Facebook’s not out there reporting on the Spencer Gulf and neither is Google. So, the commercial media plays a really important, unique role, but it’s tough and that’s why we felt in Government, it was appropriate to provide some support to those businesses to help keep them going, to help ensure that regional news was provided. Because, in any democracy, you need strong news voices, you need different opinions, you need different sources of news. It can’t just be one. So, that’s why we think it’s important and commercial broadcasters where there is a demonstrated need in regional Australia, they should be looked at by the Government, but that hasn’t happened.

Wayne Phillips: Well, the ALP and Michelle Rowland, the Communications Minister, who we asked for an interview on this topic, declined our interview, but did send this release to us and said that in addition to an ambitious reform agenda, the Government is developing a News Media Assistance Program or what they call News Map to guide media sector support. This will be informed by the development of a news measurement framework for the digital era. This is a foundational step needed to inform media policy intervention in Australia, which has been undertaken by the ACMA. Do you know much about their program and is this something that will see money put on the table for commercial radio and commercial TV in the regions?

David Coleman: Well look, it just sounds like a bit of a word salad doesn’t it? It’s a lot of sentences of cold comfort to the people of the Spencer Gulf. Because the Minister, and I’m not surprised to be honest that the Minister declined to be interviewed on your program because that’s a pattern with the Minister when questions are a bit difficult, is not to appear. But, it’s all well and good to do reviews and to look into things and there’s a role for that. But Government is about action. And there’s no action here. There’s a complete negligence when it comes to the situation in the Spencer Gulf. And, the Minister is just sort of sitting there doing nothing, and a review which will report who knows when, well not much help to the people of Spencer Gulf, or the journalists and young cadets and so on that are unfortunately going to lose their jobs as part of this. So, no, I don’t think that that’s an appropriate response at all.

Wayne Phillips: My guest is David Coleman, he’s the Shadow spokesperson from the Coalition on Communications. The issues with mobile phones, we know that under your Government, there was an ambitious program to roll out into regional and remote areas and a range of mobile phone services and through the carriers, they could apply for the grants and there was a number of smaller locations that achieved that right through our broadcast areas in New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia. Do you believe that this is going to continue under the present Government? And is there examples that you can share of where you’ve had concerns raised about the lack of service provision?

David Coleman: Yes, certainly Wayne. Well, round six of the program is very concerning. So that was announced a couple of months ago. And in that round, the Minister personally selected every location and she’s admitted that, she acknowledged that on 2GB radio in Sydney, so personally selected locations. There were 54 around the country. 74% of them are in Labor electorates. And that’s not appropriate because of course, we know that the program’s designed, particularly for regional and rural Australia, and no one could say that 74% of the need is in Labor electorates, because most regional electorates are not held by Labor, so very concerning. We’ve actually referred that to the Auditor General and asked him to have a look into this and we’re waiting on his response at the moment, but it’s a good program. The Mobile Black Spot Program has helped a lot of people over the years but this round six is very concerning. And we’ll look forward with interest the response from the Auditor General.

Wayne Phillips: And the final question, we’ve been talking about the loss of voices in the media in regional areas and a lot of time has been spent now in media commentary, particularly coming out of capital cities, about the need for an Indigenous voice to the Parliament, and a referendum has been called on the issue. On one hand, we see a loss of voices in the media and regions. On the other hand, we’re creating all new voices in Canberra, potentially, if that referendum were to get up, what’s your view on this Voice?

David Coleman: Well look Wayne, we all want to do more for Indigenous Australians. We all acknowledge the very difficult situation that Indigenous Australians face. But this proposal from the Government is not the right proposal and the Opposition doesn’t support it. And, I don’t support it. It’s a major change to the Constitution, which through the involvement of executive Government and representations to the executive Government would create a lot of complexity in the system of Government in Australia. Unfortunately, the Prime Minister has been unwilling to describe in detail how it’s going to work and wants to leave those detailed questions till after the referendum is voted on. That’s not the right way of going about this. And it’s, I think, if he continues on that path, that it won’t be successful and certainly we in the opposition, will continue to oppose it.

Wayne Phillips: My guest today has been Honourable David Coleman, the Shadow Minister for Communications, discussing the loss of regional media and specifically in South Australia television station newsroom closing down last week in the Spencer Gulf but also looking at a range of other important issues. We thank you for your time today, David.

David Coleman: Thanks Wayne.

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