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$10m support package for regional newspapers facing newsprint price hikes

Regional newspapers under threat from rising printing costs have been offered a $10 million lifeline by the Coalition if it is re-elected this month. Source: Timberbiz

The Coalition on Sunday announced the establishment of a new $10 million round of the Public Interest News Gathering program which will allow eligible regional newspaper publishers to apply for funding to support their sustainability in the face of newsprint prices rising by up to 80 per cent from 1 July 2022.

Communications Minister Paul Fletcher said the funds, part of the Public Interest News Gathering program, came after consultation with major regional publishers over the pressures they faced and support they required.

The government says it will move quickly to consult on and finalise the guidelines, to call for applications and to make funding decisions. Support payments are expected to be made early in the new financial year.

Funding will be contingent on no newspaper closures or job losses due to increased newsprint prices. Funding amounts will be determined based on the demonstrated cost impacts to eligible applicants of newsprint cost increases.

In addition to this support, the Government will undertake further work following the election on the long-term sustainability of the sector.

Up to $2 million will also be provided to fast-track an investment ready analysis for the replacement of the coal-fired boiler at Norske Skog’s Boyer Mill. The analysis is part of a larger investment in partnership with the Tasmanian Government and Norske Skog to help secure the Boyer Mill’s long-term future as Australia’s only producer of publication grade paper.

Australian newspaper publishers have been facing an 80 per cent increase in printing costs from July 1 as Australian producer Norske Skog continues to increase prices.

This follows a stable period for newsprint pricing during the last decade as newspaper circulation and paginations declined during digital ascendancy and Covid pandemic changes.

Following Norske Skog’s acquisition by UK investment advisory services provider Oceanwood Capital Services Management LLP, its Tasman Mill closed in New Zealand.

Australia‘s mainland mill at Albury was also closed when purchased by Visy as it strategically planned for additional softwood allocations and possibly future recycled production capacity.

Untimely losses of timber plantations after bushfires in south east NSW in 2020, added to pressures on timber and wood fibre supply for all players.

This has left Norske’s Boyer facility in Southern Tasmania as the only Australasian newsprint manufacturing facility.

Mr Fletcher said the Coalition Government had provided critical support for regional media during the COVID-19 pandemic and was standing with them again now.

“Ongoing volatility overseas is having an impact back home, which is why Australians need a Government with strong economic management that can steer the Australian economy through uncertain times,” Mr Fletcher said.

“Regional newspapers provide a vitally important role in bringing regional communities together and keeping them informed of local news and events.

“Our Government has been there to support regional media over the past three years. The Public Interest News Gathering program is a tried and tested model that supported regional newspapers and broadcasters during the pandemic.

“I have met with major regional publishers on the issues they are facing and the support they require. We will move urgently to deliver this new round following the election, working closely with the sector, with payments expected to be made from 1 July when newsprint prices are due to increase.”

Regionalisation, Regional Communications and Regional Education Minister Bridget McKenzie said the support package was part of the Coalition’s plan for stronger regions.

“Our regional newspaper publishers employ thousands of people in regional Australia and regional manufacturers like Norske Skog employ many more,” Senator McKenzie said.

“Locally printed newspapers are so important for our regional communities because they tell local stories that will never be covered by the bigger publishers.

“While the Coalition is standing up for regional jobs, the Labor Party is implementing a carbon tax by stealth. It needs to come clean on how its harmful safeguard mechanism will impose higher costs on large regional employers and what that will mean for the future of paper manufacturing in this country and the future of our regional newspapers.”

Senator McKenzie said the package built on the significant support the Coalition Government had delivered for regional media to date.

This included $50 million through the Public Interest News Gathering Program and legislating the News Media and Digital Platforms Mandatory Bargaining Code that has seen Google and Facebook strike commercial deals with a wide range of Australian news media companies across the country.

The Coalition had also established a new $10 million Journalist Fund for regional media organisations to hire new cadet journalists and upskill existing journalists.