SPEECH - THE STATE OF NEWS MEDIA - 7 FEBRUARY 2018

A lot has changed in the 22 years since I made my first appearance in my local newspaper, the Blacktown Sun.

Advances in technology, the rise of digital platforms and the way in which opinions are disseminated today were never envisaged back when its inaugural edition rolled hot off the press all those decades ago. But the qualities that made the Blacktown Sun and its sister publications, including the Rouse Hill Courier, trusted sources of local news and information, endured right up until their final editions in December last year. One thing that will never change is the importance of localism. These papers were always focused on the human story—the way in which events and decisions of national scale and scope can be translated to the experience and impact on local residents.

Unfortunately their parent decided that these publications could not be sustained, which is curious considering that the biggest complaint I would receive about them was from local residents who weren't getting these papers delivered to their homes. To all the journalists, photographers and staff over the years who brought us the news we needed to know in west and north-west Sydney, with whom I enjoyed such productive relationships, thank you. Your skill and dedication has left an indelible mark on our city and its people.

Sadly, right on the heels of the closure of these local papers, the only dedicated national newspaper for young Australians, Crinkling News, has also announced it will cease. This innovative outfit ticked so many boxes, informing the child audience, developing literacy skills and promoting critical media thinking.

The fact that these closures come after the Turnbull government's changes to media ownership laws and the announcement of the Regional and Small Publishers Innovation Fund shows how inadequate these measures are. We have learnt for decades that public interest journalism is under immense pressure from digital disruption. Yet this government has cut hundreds of millions from the ABC and SBS, trusted sources of investigative journalism in Australia, repealed the two-out-of-three cross-media rule to permit even greater consolidation in Australia's already highly concentrated media sector, and is now threatening journalists with criminal sanctions simply for doing their jobs, with its flawed Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme.

Labor, by contrast, understands the importance of public interest journalism to a robust democracy. That is why we established the convergence review and the Finkelstein inquiry, both of which have been comprehensively ignored by the Turnbull government. It was Labor who established the Senate Select Committee on the Future of Public Interest Journalism inquiry, with the support of crossbench senators. I do hope Crinkling News finds a way to continue, but clearly the Regional and Small Publishers Innovation Fund is a meagre, short-term bandaid that is too little, too late for them. The sole reason the fund even exists is because of backroom deals, not because this government is genuine about supporting public interest journalism.