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The Importance of Local Businesses

Tags: Gawler / Light Electorate

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  • By Light Electoral Office
  • Apr 09, 2020
The Importance of Local Businesses

 In making this contribution to this bill, I indicate my broad general support for this bill, but I would like to talk about what I think are some of the key issues, and these are issues that relate to my portfolios of urban development and planning and also local government, but also how they relate to my local community because this bill will have an impact on all of those areas. The key themes that have come through in my portfolio since I have become shadow minister for urban development and planning and also local government have been issues around transparency, accountability and social licence or social contract. These are key issues that actually need to be considered in light of this bill, which gives wide-ranging powers to a number of individuals.

We delegate to governments, whether they be local, state or federal governments, a whole range of powers for them to act on our behalf, and it is quite right to do so. But, in return, the community expects transparency, accountability and that decisions meet the test of social licence, and that what we do in this place will only work if the community believes that it is fair and reasonable and it meets requirements of the social licence; in other words, that we actually pass laws which are fair, reasonable and necessary.

I also believe that transparency and accountability are shared responsibilities in our community and in our democracy. As legislators, we have the primary responsibility to ensure that our laws are fair, reasonable and necessary. The media has an important role to play in protecting our democracy by holding governments at all levels accountable for the decisions they make and that decisions are transparent and have the given social licence from the community.

For this and many other reasons I was deeply saddened when I heard last week that my local newspaper, The Bunyip, closed its doors after publishing for 157 years. It was devastating to my community and I felt it immensely. It was published through wars and depression, but recent financial challenges and COVID-19 made the newspaper unsustainable in the short term. I do trust, though, that The Bunyip will return and return quickly.

We need more media, not less. We need local media, not less. Local papers inform, educate and connect. Their role is important every day and more so when we are living through a crisis. We need The Bunyip and other local newspapers to publish again as they provide an important oversight of democracy at the local level. We need The Bunyip to ensure that governments at all levels make transparent decisions and are accountable for them.

Local papers reflect the views and values of local communities, and ensure that government decisions and laws have social licence. In my portfolio areas, The Bunyip has done an excellent job to report and generate discussion on important local government urban development and planning issues, as have a number of other local papers throughout the state. The role for Gawler's local paper cannot be shared or delegated to other media. Unfortunately there are some in our community who have not lamented the close of The Bunyip, and that is sad. You cannot expect other media to pick up where The Bunyip has left off. It is not the same.

Every local community, and particularly those in rural communities, understand that each community has its own culture and values that cannot be conveyed correctly or appropriately in a true sense from other papers. If you believe in local democracy, you will support your local media who knows and understands your local community. All local papers do a good job in reflecting their local community, and I say local community, not adjacent communities. As I said, each community has its own culture and their local papers best reflect that.

There may be those local decision-makers, whether they are at the local, state or federal level, who do not like the scrutiny they receive from their local media, and that is understandable. However, the critical issue is, who will hold future decision-makers accountable if there is no local media? That is why all levels of government need to stand by, and stand up for, their local media. Their communities quite rightly expect them to do so. In times of crisis, local media help local people to remain connected and informed.

This is central to our democracy. I would like to return to the sadness and shock I felt when I heard that The Bunyip was closing. I am hopeful that local, state and federal decision-makers will stand up and support our local media in their hour of need so they will be there in our hour of need.

I think the issues raised by The Bunyip in their last, and hopefully not their final, edition raised key issues that I would like to quickly touch upon. I will read some passages from the paper:

Regional newspapers through Country Press SA and also our national association Country Press Australia, have been lobbying governments—

all governments—

for many years to support our industry. This has fallen on deaf ears as governments continue to shift their ad spend to online platforms.

It goes on to say:

We are the medium relied upon to generate public discussion and debate to ensure decision makers are accountable. We are the medium expected to publish the government's media releases of their good deeds, stories of expenditure on vast public works projects and grant funding, yet we receive less and less of the government/s' spend each year.

It then goes on to say:

Some of our mastheads—

this is the group of local media—

are more than 150 years old and our communities depend on us as the only local voice that holds government and business to account and acts as a voice to the community.

Democracy as we know it today will be changed forever, unless something is done now.

I could not have said it better myself. With the few seconds I have left, I would like to end where I started this contribution: accountability, transparency and social licence underpin our democracy and we need our local media for that.

Debate adjourned on motion of Mr Pederick.


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