Question without notice: My question is for the Premier. Premier, regional media across Australia and certainly here in Victoria has been under threat for several years, brought about by the consolidation of media outlets and a move away from hard copy newspapers due to digitisation and social media. It has been exacerbated during the pandemic, and the rate of change has seen television outlets closing and the remaining newspapers really struggling to stay afloat. Our country newspapers tell our stories, give us the news and put the spotlight on local and other governments. I believe it is a major regional issue, and I have raised it many times in this place. Premier, what are you doing to assist regional newspapers to remain viable?
Answer (Premier Dan Andrews): I thank the independent member for Shepparton for her question, and like her, I agree that regional media, particularly regional and country newspapers, plays a vital role in giving local communities a voice, giving local communities a platform to advocate and making sure that local communities are well informed about what is going on in their part of our beautiful state. All of that is critically important, and I have always been an advocate of more voices in our media, not less. I think that some of the trends in terms of reducing the number of points of view, reducing the number of outlets, reducing some of that competitive tension in what should be not just a contest of ideas but also a contest of what is important—a debate about what are the most important issues—I think the more voices we have, the better. But it is not just a philosophical commitment on my part and the part of the government in relation to more voices.
Mr D O’Brien interjected.
Mr ANDREWS: Sorry?
The SPEAKER: Order! The member for Gippsland South!
Mr ANDREWS: Goodness me. Why aren’t you on the front bench? Why aren’t you on the front bench? That is a very good question.
But they are very significant investments that we have made—not just words but action, real action: $16.5 million in COVID regional press commitments, noting all the points that the member for Shepparton has made about dislocation, about change, about really uncertain times—$16.5 million. Last month, so January 2022, the COVID regional press commitment that I just referred to delivered from that $16.5 million $397 000 in direct support for regional papers. When combined with all other Victorian government advertising campaigns, our investment was worth some $931 000 to regional press outlets last month.
The editors and owners that I talk to right across regional Victoria—the country press association and individual journalists, editors, owners of regional newspaper outlets—acknowledge just how important that practical support has been. Plus of course the fact that we are not only supporting large campaigns and specific grants but we have given a commitment, and our record demonstrates this, that we will keep on supporting those campaigns. Whether it be in tourism, investment, road safety, fire safety—the list goes on and on—those campaigns and the money I have talked about are critical. I want to see more voices in regional media, not less. And those dollars—not only do you get a great outcome for Victorian taxpayers but you support the very media diversity that I would argue has never been more important than it is right now in these uncertain times.
Supplementary question: Well, Premier, to get to the point, the publication of government notices in our local newspapers not only provides the public with an accessible opportunity to know what is going on but it provides advertising revenue that underpins the income of many of our regional newspapers. Premier, will you amend your government’s legislation—well, I should say policy—that is proposing to remove the requirement for that publication in the printed press?
Answer (Premier Dan Andrews): I want to thank the independent member for Shepparton for her advocacy on behalf of regional newspapers and regional media on this very issue, just as I should thank my own regional colleagues—a record number of Labor members representing regional Victoria—a true party of regional Victoria. I am very pleased to be able to say that whilst we had intended to enshrine those expenditures and that effort in regs—so in a subordinate instrument—yes, we will, thanks to the advocacy of the member for Shepparton and others, put these matters beyond doubt via an amendment so that there is complete clarity. Not only are we the government that has supported regional media more than any government in the state’s history, but there can be no doubt that that will continue to be our policy. I thank the member for Shepparton, who just gets on and delivers. That is what she does because she is about outcomes, not silly games like some others on that side of the house.