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Transcripts from the Prime Ministers of Australia

Transcript 6345

SPEECH BY THE PRIME MINISTER AUSTRALIAN SUBURBAN NEWSPAPER ASSOCIATION, SYDNEY 15 MARCH 1984

Photo of Hawke, Robert

Hawke, Robert

Period of Service: 11/03/1983 to 20/12/1991

More information about Hawke, Robert on The National Archive website.

Release Date: 15/03/1984

Release Type: Speech

Transcript ID: 6345

CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY EMBARGOED AGAINST DELIVERY
PRIME MINISTER
SPEECH BY THE PRIME MINISTER
AUSTRALIAN SUBURBAN NEWSPAPER ASSOCIATION
SYDNEY 15 MARCH 1984
I thank the Australian Suburban Newspaper Association for
providing me with this opportunity to join you today.
Your contribution is an important one. While you are part
of the great tradition of the print media which makes such
an essential contribution to the wellbeing of a democratic
society, your specific role is only recently being
appreciated for what it is.
The phrases ' freedom of the press' free flow of
information', ' open Government' may strike some people as
cliches, but let us not mistake the importance of these
concepts in the maintenance of a politically healthy
society. They also go to the heart of what you are about. This
seminar is about the future of your area of the print media.
It is about the direction the suburban press is taking, and
about how you will be ' piecing together' the future of your
industry helping it to evolve as a positive and permanent
part of our society's information resources.
For the success of any enterprise believe one of the key
factors must be genuine understanding of the purpose of the
enterprise a firm commitment to what it is doing, where it
is going, and an ability to communicate effectively.
A Government, for example, that is confident of the wisdom
of what it is doing is keen that its aims, policies and
programs are well understood. It is concerned that all
citizens are aware of what the Government is about and how
its decisions will affect them, assist them and it needs
to know what they think of Government initiatives and
decisions. A participatory, reforming, open Government finds it vital
to communicate.

This is my Government's approach we want to have the
confidence and support of the people and we want to keep
them informed by all the means that are available.
For your part it appears that a fundamental question has to
be answered if the purpose of your enterprise is to be
understood. Why do people read the local press and what
will see them continue to support it?
A clue to the answering of this question may be taken from a
further analogy with Government.
The communication of policies is one important aspect of a
Government's responsibilities and I will refer to that
again. There is, however, the other side of the coin;
namely, the need for genuine public response to its programs
and policies.
Major interest groups representing industry, labour and
other well organised groups in our society have the ability
to get their message across to get access to the national
media and to speak directly to Government.
What of course sometimes gets lost in the national debate is
the voice of the man or woman in the street, the voice of
the suburbs, of the outback and the remote areas. What are
their views on what the Government is doing or should be
doing? How do they feel about the implementation of new
policies or proposed Government activities? Their opinions
and activities will not often be newsworthy in a way that
will attract interest in the metropolitan press or
television. They will not be tighly organised but on a
community by community basis they will often have a coherent
point of view; a view which the local suburban press, for
instance, can reflect.
It is the ability to assimilate and reflect these community
views which is part of the answer to the question of why
people read the suburban press.
The community's political representatives if they are
doing their job well will be aware of this, and will come
to recognise that you are the press of the small community
and an important link if the community's views are to be
fully understood.
I would like to feel that the political representatives of
the people, whether they be from Local, State or Federal
spheres, could rely on your newspapers as a clear reflection
of community views. Your newspapers present a means of
communicating what is happening around us. This will be the
sort of information and news that will not be reported by
the metropolitan dailies or on television newscasts because
it is thought to lack sufficient general interest, or cannot
match up to some big national or international story.

This is of course to your advantage an area has been left
to you in which opinion can be aggregated, information on
local issues provided and loyalty to the local paper formed.
No doubt you will all recognise this as a major task, a
major concern of your industry, a major responsibility.
Your communities rely on you and recognise that, while your
publications have to rub shoulders with the so-called ' junk
mail', you have something valuable to supply.
In saying this, I recognise the catalyst to your industry is
the interest advertisers have in a commercially attractive
platform to merchandise their goods. I am convinced,
nevertheless, that there remains plenty of room for your
newspapers to establish distinctive voices for their
individual communities. You have the opportunity which the
metropolitans cannot match to provide complete coverage of
a small community. You have a sound, intimate knowledge of
that community and by providing your readers with useful
reliable information, well-formed opinion and the chance to
interact through your paper with the community, you will
consolidate your unique position.
May I give some examples where the Government wants to get
its message through to the community at large, to the grass
roots to the level where people need to understand policy
and administrative arrangements if they are to benefit in
the full from the measures we as a Government have taken on
their behalf. Your papers have a real role in this regard.
The introduction of Medicare was a decision taken by
Government an important decision which was based on a firm
mandate given to the Government by Australians at the last
election. While Australians may have a grasp of the general
sense, humanity and equity of the scheme, the Government has
a continuing responsibility to ensure people know how it
will assist them and what they should do to benefit fully.
Now some of this information can be conveyed to the public
by a national television campaign by showing someone like
me filling in his Medicare enrolment form for example; but
we would all recognise that this only accomplishes part of
the exercise. This general information must be repackaged
and reprocessed to answer the questions and problems of many
individuals and special communities throughout the country.
While there may be a Medicare Branch Office ' on the ground'
in many suburbs as there may also be CES or other
Commonwealth and State welfare agency offices there
usually remains something of a gap between these agencies
and the people they serve.

In this situation, the local press can play a very important
role in helping to integrate and ' localise' these offices
and the message they bring. You will both be serving the
same community and your own expertise in communication by
helping to make these agencies more a part of the community
not just the furthest extension of a distant bureauracy.
You will be helping people get the specific answers and
assistance they need the sort of personal assistance that
I would be the first to admit cannot be provided by guest
appearances by well known personalities.
A further example of a decision made at the Federal
Government level which has had a real effect on the lives of
many people in the suburbs of our large cities is the First
Home Owners Scheme. This was a major decision benefiting a
great number of needy Australians and is a significant
element in the Government's national strategy of economic
recovery. Apart from the initial coverage of the decision
in the metropolitan press and television, there is a further
need to ensure that those who most need this assistance are
aware of its availability.
The First Home Owners Scheme has been remarkably well
received and I believe the Government has done a good job of
communicating the essentials of the Scheme.
There has been a national advertising campaign, and the
Department of Housing and Construction provided explanatory
material to groups contacting first home buyers real
estate agents, builders, lending institutions -and set up
special offices in the capital cities.
Nevertheless it is the step to the local level -relating
the general principles of the scheme to the particular case
that is the most difficult. This will often have to be
done on a one-to-one basis. A workable local communications
system, of which the local press can be a focal point, can
greatly assist in facilitating this final step.
The free flow of information at all levels is a commitment
of the Government. Since coming to office we have taken a
number of important steps in this area:
in the electronic communications arena, we have given
the green light for the launch of Australia's domestic
satellite system. A major aspect of this will be the
ability to provide a greater variety of broadcasting for
people throughout Australia. Part of this facility will
be used by the ABC to put in place a second regional
radio network;

we have introduced a Supplementary Licence Scheme to
allow commercial television operators outside the five
mainland capitals to provide their viewers and listeners
with additional commercial radio and television
services; we have continued the work initiated by the previous
Labor Government in Freedom of Information. Amendments
were passed last year to improve access provisions still
further. The Government is currently reviewing and
expanding its publicity program in this area; and
the Government has taken steps to encourage innovative
small businesses working in the communications
technology area by ensuring the eligibility of software
development for industrial research and development
incentives. We have also expanded the AIDC's capital
base to provide it with the option of investing in this
and other technologically advanced areas of industry.
As well, the Government has taken action to encourage
the development of a venture capital market in Australia
which should assist computer hardware and software
producers.
Nevertheless, in a society that is essentially pluralist and
open, the Government is only responsible for facilitating
the flow of information and ideas to assist those who wish
to use or enlarge these facilities and techniques.
Government is not in the business of attempting to direct
what information, entertainment or data should have
currency. This, as you would be the first to remind me, is
particularly the case in the area of newspapers, which have
a proud history of freedom with responsibility.
The Commonwealth, however, has a responsibility to monitor
the health of another important area of the media
broadcasting. It is very conscious of the need to ensure
that the flow of information in this area works freely and
is not restricted by the process of media monoply.
This is a particularly important issue when the public
facility that is being used the broadcast spectrum is
finite, and so provides an inherent limitation to
competition. It is this issue the preservation of genuine
variety and competition in broadcasting that my colleague
the Minister for Communications has under review at present.
Government information is also provided by way of media
advertisement. These advertisements are often directed at
the major press and television outlets. This is
particularly the case where the advertisements are aimed at
a national audience and carry a broad message voter
enrolments, census publicity, small boat and road safety,
and quarantine matters, for example. On these occasions,
the campaign is like a major commercial advertiser selling a
brand name.

There will be other occasions when the Government may wish
to take a different approach. A case could be made out for
extending coverage to the suburban press to ensure as
complete a coverage as possible.
There may also be a case for the Commonwealth placing some
local advertising as opposed to national advertising.
I understand, in fact, that various Government bodies and
agencies, such as the Commonwealth Employment Service,
Telecom, Australia Post and the Army Reserve, have taken
advertising in the suburban press.
The question of wider Commonwealth advertising in local
newspapers is under consideration by the Department of the
Special Minister of State.
I am sure that you, as an industry, will be doing your best
to convince Mick Young that you have something that he
should be buying. That something worth buying is a high
readership as well as a good numerical coverage of your
area. The latter is an administrative, technical problem
the former will be achieved by becoming further integrated
into your community's activities. In other words by
becoming its indispensible friend and ally.
You became its friend and ally by serving it and seeking
opportunities to give a lead where the community as a whole
might become involved.
A particular example of such an opportunity is our nation's
Bicentenary celebrations. There will be national activities
and national programs, but there will also of course be
community activities. The Australian Bicentennial Authority
is developing a network of Community Committees. I am sure
there will be plenty of room for the local press to become
involved. I note your program is quite realistically focusing on the
contribution technology can make to doing your job better.
The question could also be raised as to how far modern
communications technology has the potential to bypass
altogether your operations and those of the print media more
generally. We are told that the new technology would be capable of
allowing bill paying, banking, shopping, access to
information and entertainment, and even fulltime work to be
done without leaving the home. The very essence of the
community personal interaction and shared activities
between people in a defined geographical area could be
threatened.

7.
I would hope not. Indeed I would expect not. The face of
the metropolitan press may be radically altered by
technological innovation, but I suspect it will be highly
resilient. National data banks are never likely to be a
substitute for local interest and a reading public.
Now is the time to bear down hard with your commitment to
your unique enterprise to nuture and serve the small
community. The questions you are asking at this seminar are legitimate.
But through them all, I am convinced you have a role. It is
an important one. Carried forward with sensitivity, it is a
role from which all in the community stand to benefit. I
hope this Conference will serve to refine and develop
further general appreciation of that role.

Transcript 6345