Digital-only local newspapers will struggle to serve the communities that need them most



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Chrisanthi Giotis, University of Technology Sydney

This week News Corp Australia announced the end of the print editions of 112 suburban and regional mastheads – about one-fifth of all of Australia’s local newspapers. Of those, 36 will close and 76 become purely online publications.

Getting the chop entirely are small regional newspapers such as the Herbert Valley Express in far north Queensland (with a circulation of less than 3,000). Those going digital include free suburban papers such as Sydney’s Manly Daily, established in 1906. (Until as recently as 2017 it came out five times a week. Since 2018 is has been published twice a week.)

Whether the online-only papers can survive remains to be seen. But our research at the Centre for Media Transition suggests it will be hard for them to match what local print editions offered communities.

Losing readers and advertisers

Like print media in general, local newspapers have been squeezed by readers and advertisers moving online. Most of the revenue, even for those with a cover price, has come from advertising. This has been eroded by the likes of Google and Facebook as well as localised classified sites such as Gumtree.




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While this has has happened at slower pace than the loss of the “rivers of gold” for metropolitan newspapers, the “desertification” of local news has progressed steadily. In the decade to 2018, 106 local and regional newspapers closed in Australia, leaving 21 local government areas – 16 in regional areas – without a local newspaper.

Those that have survived have seen their staff slashed, with reporters expected to produce more “content” at the cost of doing the serious reporting that made local newspapers so valuable to their communities.

Local media ‘keystones’

As Danish researcher Rasmus Kleis Nielsen notes in Local Journalism: The decline of newspapers and the rise of digital media (IB Taurus, 2016), local newspapers have been the “keystone” of “local news ecosystems”.

No other local media comes close to the local coverage they provide. “Most of the many stories about local politics produced by the local paper never appear anywhere else,” says Nielsen. Local radio and television have tended to piggyback on their work.




Read more:
What a local newspaper means to a regional city like Newcastle


Without this reporting, local democracy suffers. Research in the United States shows local papers are essential to keep local government accountable.

Local news doesn’t scale

Given declining revenue for traditional print, and the cost of printing, moving to digital-only platforms was perhaps inevitable.

But the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the move by killing off advertising from local businesses such as restaurants and pubs. In April News Corp suspended the print runs of 60 local papers. Just three – the Wentworth Courier, Mosman Daily and North Shore Times, serving Sydney’s most affluent suburbs – will resume, thanks to their lucrative property advertising.




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Making the rest viable as digital-only local news services is going to be tricky for two reasons.

The first is to do with how online advertising works. The second is how readers in these areas relate to the news, and their willingness to pay for online news.

A key characteristic of the historical readership and advertising markets for local newspaper is their “bounded” nature. But the defining characteristics of online news and advertising is “scaleability”.

Once all newspapers could largely dictate prices to advertisers. This was particularly the case with local papers, often the only game in town. But the game has changed. What they can charge for online advertising is a fraction of what they once could for print.

Most metro newspapers responded with plans to grow their readership by providing their content free online. The idea was that more readers would help maintain them as an attractive advertising platform.

This has generally not proved the winning strategy they had hoped. So papers from The Age to The Daily Telegraph have been moving to paywalls, enticing their print buyers to online subscriptions.

Unwillingness to pay

Our research suggests doing the same with non-metropolitan newspapers is likely to be harder. Readers in rural and regional areas are less willing than those in cities to pay for online news services.

As part of our report Regional News Media: State of Play published in 2019, we surveyed 266 people living in regional and rural areas, demographically representative of the population of country Australia.

Just 14% indicated willingness to pay for news online, with 49% saying they would not (and 37% unsure).



The News and Media Research Centre at the University of Canberra has found similar reluctance to pay. The results of its Digital News Report Australia 2019 show just 12% of regional news consumers had paid for online news, compared with 16% of urban news consumers. More detailed research produced for our report shows the difference is starkest for subscriptions.



Poorest communities hurt the most

That unwillingness to pay for online content may change if it’s the only way to get local news. Attitudes to online subscriptions are shifting, and people do value local news. Research commissioned for the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s Digital Platforms Inquiry found 71% of the population rated it as important as national news for social participation.

But the portents aren’t great for quality local news coverage – particularly in regional areas. The likelihood is further desertification of the local news landscape, with poorer communities most affected.

This is confirmed by US research that shows the people with the least access to local news are often “the poorest, least educated and most isolated”.

As Matthew Hindman of Harvard’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy has noted: “Even the clearest local digital success stories employ only a few reporters – far less than the number laid off from the papers in their own cities.

“Worrisome, too, is the fact they have found the most traction in the affluent, social-capital rich communities that need them least.”The Conversation

Chrisanthi Giotis, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, School of Communication, University of Technology Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Another savage blow to regional media spells disaster for the communities they serve



David Mariuz/AAP

Kristy Hess, Deakin University

With swift and savage force, the COVID-19 pandemic has inadvertently attacked Australia’s local news media ecology, which was already battling a weakened immune system.

As a researcher working on Australia’s largest academic study into the future of local newspapers, the phones have been running hot in recent weeks. We’ve had calls from everyday people, journalists made redundant, cadets surviving on JobKeeper, and independent news proprietors, all navigating their way through the crisis.




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News Corp has announced plans to close or suspend printing operations of more than 100 suburban and small community titles. Its more successful publications, such as the Geelong Advertiser, Gold Coast Bulletin, Hobart Mercury and the iconic Northern Territory News, will remain with print and digital editions.

Other independently-owned newspapers across rural and regional Australia are still breathing: they are gasping for air, but they are breathing. They’ve either temporarily suspended operations, cut back the number of print editions or shifted to a digital-only model to “see how it goes”.

Since the COVID-19 crisis emerged, there have been two key funding schemes introduced (or re-introduced) to support news providers – the government’s $50 million Public Interest News Gathering Program and a $5 million Regional and Small Publishers Innovation Fund.

The federal government has also announced plans to force Google and Facebook to share advertising revenue with producers of quality journalism in Australia. The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission is now seeking views on its new draft mandatory code that will address bargaining power imbalances between Australia’s news media businesses, and Google and Facebook.




Read more:
Trust in quality news outlets strong during coronavirus pandemic


This has been met with some initial concern from the Country Press Association of Australia amid fears the modelling may only benefit big companies and not the little players that serve small towns and cities.

The Victorian government has waded in to provide more than $4 million in additional advertising support for local and regional print publications. Our preliminary research indicates Victoria leads the way with this type of support for local news. Other states, such as South Australia and New South Wales, lag behind or have announced changes to legislation that provides government authorities freedom to advertise on their own sites or via social media.

The problem is, social media sites like Facebook don’t put the interests of local communities first, whereas local news outlets do (or at least they should). Facebook has gone to great lengths to distance itself from the types of local content posted on its platform. In the local news ecology, it tends to feed from traditional local news providers or the goodwill of citizens who moderate and upload content of local importance and reap the advertising rewards. One off, $10,000 grants from social media juggernauts to local news entrepreneurs won’t fix this systemic problem.

In some local areas, business owners are offering donations or advertising support to preserve the journal of record during COVID-19. JobKeeper is keeping many cadet journalists on the payroll, and there are some keen reporters doing their bit to report on the news, even if they are not getting paid.

There’s also stories of new start-ups emerging – like Matt Dunn in Victoria’s South Gippsland region. He was made redundant by the local newspaper, which is planning to close its doors permanently. He immediately set to work developing his own digital news platform, “The Paper”.

Dunn is confident elderly residents who have little experience with technology will come on board because they will be hungry for good quality local meaningful news. It’s about the content, not the platform.

However, digital-only publications are problematic in areas of rural and regional Australia that struggle with broadband connectivity. It’s even more worrisome for those areas with ageing populations, where reading the local paper is a daily or weekly ritual to maintain a sense of connection to their community.

I’ve spoken with several elderly residents in recent weeks who are distressed about the decline of Australian Community Media’s local content and the reduction of the print edition. Without the newspaper and technological capabilities, they feel “lost”. And importantly, they can’t read the death notices, so have no idea who has died.




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Without local papers, regional voices would struggle to be heard


Perhaps that is the key for policymakers, researchers and industry in a post COVID-19 world. Big news conglomerates around the world have been accused of building a plethora of zombie newspapers that are local in name only – full of syndicated content, without really being attuned to the needs and wants of a community or helping people to develop shared social connection and purpose to place.

My hunch is zombie papers will be the first to fall.

Audiences aren’t stupid. It’s the newspapers and community individuals determined to provide news that are the heart of their communities and should survive into the future. Policymakers, researchers and industry need to be acutely aware of the types of news outlets and individuals that best provide – or are willing to provide – real, credible and meaningful local news and information for their communities in areas of Australia big and small.

They are the ones that should be at the front of the queue for any type of media vaccine.The Conversation

Kristy Hess, Associate Professor (Communication), Deakin University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Regional media get COVID lifeline but ABC, SBS remain in peril



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Alexandra Wake, RMIT University and Michael Ward, University of Sydney

After weeks of devastating reports of local newspaper closures and regional broadcast stations turning off local news services, media supporters and observers were united in joy as the Australian government announced a coronavirus relief package for local journalism.

The four-part initiative has been designed to assist local newspapers and commercial free-to-air radio and television and subscription television, following calls for a lifeline from the industry and the communities they serve.

Although coronavirus might have hastened their financial woes, it’s clear that many of these news outlets have been in trouble for a while, with falling advertising and subscription revenue reductions.

Last year was described as “the worst advertising market since the global financial crisis for the television industry”.

Australian metropolitan radio revenues fell by 6% in 2019.

Regional newspapers have been buoyed by local advertising, but even that has its limits.

Two components of the government’s COVID package, a $41m waiver on the tax imposed on radio and television services for spectrum use, and suspension of key parts of the commercial television Australian content rules, will save commercial broadcasters millions in 2020.

Both major industry organisations, Free TV and Commercial Radio Australia, cautiously welcomed the announcement, but sought more action from the government.

The third component, a $50 million Public Interest News Gathering program, will fund journalism for regional broadcasters and print services.

The most heartening line in the government’s press release was the acknowledgement by the minister that

the government recognises that public interest journalism is essential in informing and strengthening local communities.

ABC and SBS left out

In the absence of other government action, there remain two big losers from the COVID-19 announcement for journalism.

First, it excluded the trusted national public broadcasters, even though SBS must also be experiencing a reduction in advertising revenue.

Further, there was no indication the ABC would be given any reprieve from the combined budget cuts/freezes that will total almost $800 million by 2022.




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The ABC didn’t receive a reprieve in the budget. It’s still facing staggering cuts


In the midst of the COVID emergency, which has brought a record number of people to the broadcaster, the ABC is continuing to manage an annual budget reduction of over $100 million while delivering its range of services.

As has been widely acknowledged, it has also increased emergency broadcasting firstly for the devastating summer bushfires, and now for the coronavirus emergency, without any specific funds.

Local drama in jeopardy

Independent producers of Australian programs, including Australian drama, documentary and children’s drama, are also losers in the COVID announcement.

The decision to suspend commercial television Australian content rules for 2020 is couched in terms of production “disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic”.

However, there are long lead times for much drama and documentary production, and commercial free-to-air broadcasters are allowed to average drama content over three years.

This means a more nuanced and flexible approach to developing and commissioning projects could have helped broadcasters and kept the production sector alive.

In an already hard hit creative sector, TV producers look like losing at least a year of commercial commissions. That’s worth $250 million to the sector.

The government statement also implies the reduction in the Australian content rule may extend into 2021. If that happens, it’ll bring to an end Australian content policy settings that have been in place for almost 60 years.

Originally introduced by the Menzies government, the policy was put in place to ensure there was a strong Australian identity on local television.

Chilling notes in the details

Finally, the government has included as part of its announcement, a fast-tracked consultation process on “Harmonising Regulation to Support Australian Content”.

Media observers will be pleased the process has finally started, but all will be concerned about the timing.

It seems more than a little odd for some of the most significant reforms to the way Australian content is delivered via screens are included in an emergency funding announcement.




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Buried on page 41 of the document, for example, is an option which would require the ABC and SBS to spend their funding to make up for commercial shortcomings in children’s programming.

Or to put it another way, if that option were accepted, the ABC and SBS would be told by the government of the day to do what the government wants, without any extra funding. That’s completely opposite to the idea of an independent public broadcaster. Perhaps it’s a case for the Inbestigators.The Conversation

Alexandra Wake, Program Manager, Journalism, RMIT University and Michael Ward, PhD candidate, University of Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Regional cities beware – fast rail might lead to disadvantaged dormitories, not booming economies



Many commuters already travel from regional cities to work in capital cities like Melbourne so what impacts will fast rail have?
Alpha/Flickr, CC BY-NC

Todd Denham, RMIT University and Jago Dodson, RMIT University

Governments are looking to fast rail services to regional cities to relieve population pressures in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. The federal government is funding nine business cases for such schemes. But what economic effect might these fast links have on the regional cities?

The current fast rail schemes seem oriented at relieving population pressures in the major cities rather than a productive regional economic purpose. The minister for population, cities and urban infrastructure recently stated:

… the National Faster Rail Agency begins operating from today [July 1]. The new Agency will oversee the government’s 20-year fast rail agenda, which will connect satellite regional cities to our big capitals. This will allow people to reside in regional centres with its [sic] cheaper housing and regional lifestyle but still access easily and daily the major employment centres.




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The argument seems built on a pitch to city workers priced out of metropolitan housing markets. It treats regional towns as remote dormitories for metropolitan workers rather than as regional cities that serve as service hubs and employment centres. But will subsidising metropolitan workers to live in cheaper regional towns have a positive economic effect on those towns?

An unequal relationship

Concern is growing among international observers that fast rail connections between two cities benefit the larger of the pair. Professor Michael Storper observed:

One of the biggest mistakes we’ve made was being naïve about connectivity – give infrastructure and it spreads. Well, often it concentrates. The high-speed train network in France, guess what it did. It advantaged Paris.

While Paris is seen as benefiting the most from the national fast rail TGV service, the regional cities of Lyon and Lille have strengthened their economic positions. The Lyon and Lille fast rail stations form the hub of their respective regional transport networks and have attracted new commercial activity. They also sit at intersections of major European fast rail networks.

It’s a pattern that cannot be easily achieved for Australia’s regional cities due to our widely dispersed settlements. So what does this mean for our regional cities?

Improving transport infrastructure doesn’t just improve regional business access to metropolitan markets. It decrease the costs of trade in both directions. And large cities are typically more productive economically. This is because they offer more specialised goods and services and can leverage the agglomeration effects of shared high-quality labour markets and infrastructure, plus a concentration of skills and knowledge.




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Reduced travel times can mean regional businesses become less efficient than metropolitan competitors that can offer a wider range of specialist goods and services. This may lead to regional business closures, employment losses and wage decline. Unless a regional city is able to develop a specialised set of high-skill, high-wage industries that complement or outcompete the metropolis it risks being economically disadvantaged by faster rail.

New regional demand arising from commuter population growth might counter the loss of higher-order regional jobs due to improved transport links. But that will largely be in lower-value retail and personal service sectors. The result will still be a net economic gain for the metropolis.




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The growing skills gap between jobs in Australian cities and the regions


An influx of commuters earning metropolitan wages might also inflate regional housing markets. This would disadvantage lower-paid regional workers. The beneficiaries of this scenario are likely to be local rentiers, such as landholders and developers who can profit from land-price inflation.

This interest group will likely vocally promote regional fast rail. But sustainable economic prosperity for regional cities requires more than population-driven land speculation.




Read more:
A housing affordability crisis in regional Australia? Yes, and here’s why


The example of Geelong

The most advanced of the current Australian proposals is the Geelong-Melbourne route. It has received federal and state funding for planning with an estimated total cost of at least A$10 billion. But planners need to ask how this spending will provide a net economic benefit, and how the benefits will be distributed.

Growth in commuter population and the services this attracts may be seem like a resolution to metropolitan population problems, but could further concentrate higher-paid jobs in Melbourne. Faster commutes mean Melbourne-based firms will have a greater pick of Geelong-based workers, thus consolidating metropolitan competitive advantage. Fast rail thus risks placing Geelong at a competitive disadvantage, with jobs and workers being exported to Melbourne.

Meanwhile the pressure of housing another 145,000 residents in the next 20 years already falls on Geelong, a city of 280,000 people. The strain on infrastructure and services is proportionately greater than would be the case in Melbourne, which has nearly 5 million residents.




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What can policymakers do about this?

To resolve this conundrum, thought must be given to what specialised high-value jobs will be attracted to regional cities to accompany fast rail investments, so these cities remain competitive and productive, regionally, nationally and internationally. This might include policies such as relocating public agencies, regional targeting of university-based research and development spending, boosting services such as schools and hospitals, and providing incentives for innovative private companies to relocate to regional towns.

Policymakers should also consider positioning regional cities as rail network hubs in their own right. An example would be connecting Geelong, Ballarat and Bendigo by rail, along with better linkages to national and international airports.

We don’t yet know for sure what the effects of fast rail on regional cities will be. But the impact of this infrastructure needs to be assessed very carefully lest it turns Australia’s regional cities into dependent population dormitories rather than regional dynamos, at vast public expense.The Conversation

Todd Denham, PhD Candidate, School of Global, Urban & Social Studies, RMIT University and Jago Dodson, Professor of Urban Policy and Director, Centre for Urban Research, RMIT University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Dog whistles, regional visas and wage theft – immigration policy is again an election issue


Jock Collins, University of Technology Sydney

This article is part of a series examining the Coalition government’s record on key issues while in power and what Labor is promising if it wins the 2019 federal election.


Immigration policy will be a major issue in the 2019 federal election. We know this because immigration has featured significantly at every Australian election since the 2001 “children overboard” election.

David Marr and Marian Wilkinson argued in their 2003 book, Dark Victory, that willingness to play the race card in relation to boat people was a decisive factor in John Howard’s election victory. For Tony Abbott, “Stop the boats” was a major campaign theme when the Coalition won back government in the 2013 election. The current prime minister, Scott Morrison, rose to prominence as Abbott’s unyielding immigration minister who stopped the boats.




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While the events of Christchurch may have cramped the opportunity for the Coalition to run hard on fear, promising to be tough on borders and tough on (Muslim) terrorism, the dog-whistle politics on the issue of refugees and asylum seekers will be there for those wanting to hear it.

For Labor these policy issues have been difficult. It was Kevin Rudd who as PM declared that those arriving by boat would never be settled in Australia, irrespective of the validity of their claims for protection under the UN Refugee Convention. Labor supported efforts to get children out of detention on Manus Island, but doesn’t want to give the conservatives too much space to convincingly advance a “Labor weak on border security” line.

Humanitarian intake is growing

The Coalition governments of Abbott, Turnbull and Morrison have in fact increased Australia’s annual humanitarian intake significantly. The number has risen from just over 13,750 to more than 18,000 – though the government has not loudly broadcast this fact.

In addition, Abbott in 2015 announced a one-off intake of 12,000 Syrian conflict refugees. Most of them arrived in 2017, effectively doubling the annual refugee intake in that year.

Australia – and the refugees – coped well, demonstrating the nation’s capacity to significantly increase refugee intakes. Our research with newly arrived Syrian, Iraqi and Afghan refugee families suggests they are settling well in Australia, receiving a warm welcome from locals in the cities and regional centres. Employment and family reunification are their key worries.




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Refugees are integrating just fine in regional Australia


Labor’s shadow immigration minister, Shayne Neumann, has flagged a new temporary sponsored visa for the parents of migrants. Unlike the current visa, it does not have a cap and it might assist refugees to get their parents to Australia.

Labor has announced it will increase the annual humanitarian intake of refugees to 27,000 by 2025. It will also abolish Temporary Protection Visas (TPVs). These visas provide boat arrivals who are found to be refugees the right to stay for only three years with work and study rights and access to Centrelink payments. As Labor argues, this places them “in a permanent state of limbo”.

The Coalition parties have not announced their policy intentions in relation to humanitarian intakes or the rights of asylum seekers, including those who arrived by boat.

At a time when Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton scans the horizon for new boat arrivals, record number of asylum seekers are arriving by plane under tourist visas. In 2013-14, there were 18,718 asylum applications, including 9,072 boat arrivals. This had increased to 27,931 asylum applications, with no boat arrivals, by 2017-18.


Department of Home Affairs

Each year the Australia government sets the permanent immigration targets. Until recently this was set at 190,00. In practice just 162,000 immigrants have been admitted over the past year or so.

A token cut and 2 new visas

In this context Prime Minister Morrison’s announcement that the permanent immigration target will be cut to 160,000 is really no change in immigration policy. There is nothing to see here if you dismiss the need to be loudly anti-immigration in the current populist political climate.




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Government’s population plan is more about maximising ‘win-wins’ than cutting numbers


The announcement is linked to congestion-busting in the major cities of Sydney and Melbourne. It is accompanied by the introduction of two new visa pathways – the Skilled Work Regional (Provisional) Visa and the Skilled Employer Sponsored Regional (Provisional) Visa – for skilled migrants to live and work in regional areas for five years.

These visas offer the carrot of permanent residency at the end of three years to attract new immigrants to regional Australia. In addition, the budget announced that scholarships to the tune of $94 million over four years would be available to domestic and international students who study there.




Read more:
Settling migrants in regional areas will need more than a visa to succeed


Temporary migrants exploited

Most immigration policy debates centre on permanent immigration intakes, particularly of humanitarian immigrants and asylum seekers. Yet annual temporary migrant intakes – international students, working holidaymakers and temporary skilled workers – are three times greater than the permanent intake. Over 800,000 temporary migrants were in Australia in June 2018.

One key policy issue is the exploitation of temporary migrant workers. The Turnbull government abolished the 457 temporary skilled migration visa because of increasing reports of abuse and exploitation by employers.

One recent survey of 4,332 temporary migrant workers found “increasing evidence of widespread exploitation of temporary migrant workers, including wage theft”. Half of all temporary migrant workers may be underpaid. About one in three international students and backpackers earned $12 an hour or less – about half the minimum wage.

This issue goes not just to the ethics of maintaining a temporary migration program largely premised on migrant worker exploitation. It also resonates with Labor’s campaign for a living wage and the restoration of penalty rates for workers in response to the low rate of real wage growth in Australia, which constrains consumer demand.




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Ultra low wage growth isn’t accidental. It is the intended outcome of government policies


The 2019-20 federal budget allocated extra funding to the Fair Work Ombudsman to bolster enforcement action against employers who exploit vulnerable workers and announced the National Labour Hire Registration Scheme to target rogue operators in the labour hire industry. However, the research suggests wage theft is widespread in the small business sector, a key target for tax relief in the budget. It is an area of immigration policy that requires considerably more resources and punch.The Conversation

Jock Collins, Professor of Social Economics, UTS Business School, University of Technology Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Slimmed-down migration program has regional focus


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The government has announced a reduced annual cap on migration of 160,000 for each of the next four years, as well as measures to stream a greater proportion of migrants to regional areas and boost the skilled component to these places.

The overhaul of the program comes after pressure from various quarters including conservative Liberals for immigration to be lowered, and the government talking up the need for “congestion busting”.

The government said cutting the migration cap by 15 per cent would reduce the maximum intake by a cumulative 120,000 over four years.

But the migration cap, although it is 30,000 lower than the present cap, in fact broadly reflects the actual current level of intake.

Last year permanent migration fell to its lowest level in a decade as a result of visa and other tightening.

Two new regional visas will be introduced for skilled workers, requiring them to live and work in regional areas for three years before being eligible to access permanent residency.

Skilled Employer Sponsored Regional and Skilled Work Regional visa holders will be given priority processing and will have access to a larger pool of eligible jobs.

Some 23,000 places will be set aside for regional skilled visas – this is a rise from 8,534 in 2017-18. This 8,534 represented only 7.7% of the total 111,000 skilled migrants; their visas required them to live and work in regional areas only for two years before being able to apply for permanent residency. The 23,000 will be 21% of the skilled intake.

There will also be new tertiary scholarships for Australian and international students to study in the regions – these will be worth $15,000 and go to more than 1000 local and foreign students annually.

International students studying at regional universities will be given access to an extra year in Australia on a post-study work visa.

The government says the new migration program increases the focus on skills, with the number of Employer Sponsored skilled places rising from 35,528 in 2017-18 to 39,000 in 2019-20. The family stream of the program hasn’t changed with 47,732 places available in 2019-20. The squeeze on the cap comes in the form of a reduction in the independent skilled category.

The program’s composition will be kept at about 70 per cent in the skilled stream and 30 per cent in the family stream.

The reduction in the migration ceiling will have no impact on the budget.

Scott Morrison said the government’s plan “manages population growth by adopting well targeted, responsible, and sustainable immigration policies”.

Morrison said migrants “are an invaluable part of Australia’s economic and social fabric. Our economic strength is supported by a successful migration program that brings skilled people of working age”.

He warned against those who wanted to run scare campaigns as a result of the announcements, saying they would be taking Australians for mugs.

Better targeting the intake would address skills shortages and benefit the whole economy, he said. “It will take pressure off in those cities that are straining, while supporting the cities and towns that are keen to have stronger growth”.

Morrison said managing population growth was not just about the migration intake, but also about infrastructure, city and regional deals, congestion busting projects, removing traffic bottlenecks, funding essential services, and providing key skills to regional to rural areas.

“Our plan marks a turning point in the way population is treated across government, with a move to greater collaboration, transparency and longer term planning. It is a comprehensive plan that engages and partners with our states and territories and local governments.”

Morrison said he wanted Australians to “spend less time in traffic and more time with their families”.

“Meanwhile I know we have rural and regional communities that have plans and opportunities to grow their shires, who are looking for more people to come and settle in their districts to fill jobs, inject more life into their towns, and shore up the important education and health services for the future they rely on.”

Bill Shorten played down the change in the migration cap, saying it was a 1% reduction from the 162,000 actual intake of last year. “That’s fine – I’ll always be guided by the experts”.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Regional Australia is calling the shots now more than ever



File 20190220 148506 jra1ky.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Regional Australia is no longer a desolate place when it comes to parliamentary representation.
from shutterstock.com

Andrew Beer, University of South Australia

Governments change priorities all the time. Some argue governments will focus on developing regional areas at one point in time and then refocus on major cities at another.

Our research shows that there are cycles in how much priority governments attach to regional issues. But these fluctuations are overshadowed by a larger, long-term trend towards greater involvement with regional communities.

Our findings show that regional Australia matters more today than it has at any other time since the 1940s.

Cycles of regional commitment

Inattention to particular constituencies can be costly. Victoria’s Kennett government lost office in 1999, when regional communities such as Ballarat and Bendigo became disillusioned with what they saw as a Melbourne-centric government.

This was a time when governments in other states, and nationally, were paying more attention to regional voters, with the Howard Coalition government nervously watching One Nation as a growing political force. In Queensland, the pressure was more acute, with a few regionally focused conservative politicians claiming seats in parliament.




Read more:
How big ideas for regional Australia were given short shrift


Appointing a minister with regional responsibilities is one clear marker of intent in the government of the day. John Sharp, the Howard government’s first minister for transport and regional development, released a budget statement with 19 major investments in regional areas. These included money for drought assistance, rural roads, and counselling and support services for young people and families.

Sharp said:

The Coalition government has not simply sat idly as regional Australia continued to suffer from neglect.

There are now six ministers and one parliamentary secretary for regional development in Australian parliaments. Bridget McKenzie (federal), Michael McCormack (federal), Tim Whetstone (South Australia), Jaclyn Symes (Victoria), John Barilaro (New South Wales), Alannah MacTiernan (Western Australia) and Mark Shelton (Tasmania) are the most recent expression of a trend that started almost 30 years ago.

https://datawrapper.dwcdn.net/fLyOf/1/

Our research

We examined all state and Australian government gazettes from 1939 to 2015 to find out how many “regional” ministers were in place over time. Our criteria were for the term “regional” to be in the title and for the representative to have responsibilities associated with improving the well-being of rural and remote communities.

We then used our data to develop an index, in which we gave a score of 1 for each month in the year where an identifiable regional minister held office.

For each jurisdiction the maximum possible score in any year was 12. For Australia, with six states and one federal government, the maximum possible score was 84.

https://datawrapper.dwcdn.net/mK5pe/1/

Our results, in the table above, came as a surprise. It is clear that political engagement with the regions has grown rapidly since the late 1980s.

Previous research has suggested the 1940-1960s period was one of strong governmental commitment to the regions. This was reflected in announcements on the need to “decentralise” the population.

But our data suggest the notion of a “golden era” of regional policy and government support prior to the 1970s is misplaced.

Nation-wide policies in support of agriculture, mining or infrastructure development supported regional communities. But the well-being of these places was not the primary goal.

From 1972 to 1975, the Whitlam government was committed to addressing inequalities associated with where people live. This brought fresh enthusiasm for regional portfolios in state governments, but that tide quickly waned as the political climate changed.




Read more:
Election 2016: how well are the major parties meeting the needs of rural and regional Australia?


Australian governments did not begin to appoint regional ministers as a matter of course until the late 1980s. This was a period linked to the end of old-fashioned, class-based politics and the rise of our more complex political landscape.

The trend has continued since and the presence of the six regional ministers and one parliamentary secretary in the halls of political power means there has never been a better time for regions to lobby governments.

There are now more ministers than ever before ready, able and willing to receive delegations and advocate for country towns, rural industries and remote Australia.
This means regional leaders have an opportunity to be heard in the run-up to the NSW and federal elections. The challenge is to determine the key messages and how they should be delivered.The Conversation

Andrew Beer, Dean, Research and Innovation, University of South Australia

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Refugees are integrating just fine in regional Australia


Jock Collins, University of Technology Sydney and Carol Reid, Western Sydney University

As the Australian population surpassed the 25 million mark last week, another immigration debate emerged over the burden newcomers are placing on Melbourne and Sydney in terms of congestion and rising home prices.

With government data showing 87% of skilled migrants settled in either of the two cities in the past year, Citizenship and Multiculturalism Minister Alan Tudge made an urgent appeal to redirect new arrivals to regional Australia instead.

New research being released publicly on Tuesday suggests Tudge is spot-on in his argument that regional Australia can take more permanent immigrants, including refugees. But the research also shows he’s wrong on another contention – that newly arrived refugees don’t want to learn English and that integration is not likely due to migrants living in a “language and cultural bubble”.

According to our survey of 155 newly arrived adult refugees and 59 children from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan who settled in Queensland (in suburban Brisbane and in regional Logan and Toowoomba), those who settled in Toowoomba have had the easiest time integrating and feeling a part of their local communities.

A warm welcome in the country

Funded by the Australian Research Council, the findings are the first to emerge from a three-year study of settlement outcomes of recently arrived refugees in NSW, Victoria and Queensland.


Australian Research Council, Author provided

While nearly all of the refugees surveyed in Brisbane and Logan were Christians – a consequence of the Turnbull government’s decision to take mainly Christian refugees from Syria and Iraq, Toowoomba has also settled a large number of Yazidi refugees from Iraq, who follow their own religion, and a smaller number of Muslim refugees from Afghanistan.


Australian Research Council, Author provided

One key issue related to immigrant and refugee settlement in regional and rural Australia relates to the warmth of the welcome. The stereotypes of the Australian bush being “redneck” would suggest new immigrants would find settlement difficult outside large metropolitan centres.

An earlier research project on immigrants living in regional Australia a decade ago, however, dispelled this myth, with 80% of respondents reporting a warm welcome.

Our new research confirmed this finding, with 68% of the refugees surveyed in Queensland overall – and 81% in Toowoomba – reporting it was “very easy” or “easy” to make friends in Australia.


Australian Research Council, Author provided

This is also a better result than what researchers found in the larger, national survey of refugee resettlement in Australia, “Building a New Life in Australia”, which has been conducted since 2013. It’s referred to in the graph as “BNLA”.

Another indication of the “warmth of the welcome” in regional Australia is the finding that about half of the immigrants in Queensland – and 60% in Toowoomba – found it “very easy” or “easy” to talk to their Australian neighbours, a similar result to the BNLA. When we revisit these families in 2019 and 2020, we expect the numbers will even be higher.

The exception here were the immigrants who moved to Logan, who reported a lower level of ease talking with neighbours. Previous research has found a complex array of factors creates a different experience for refugees in Logan, which was one of the most disadvantaged municipalities in Australia in 2016.


Australian Research Council, Author provided

A desire to learn English

Being able to communicate with neighbours and other people is high on the list of critical needs of the immigrants we interviewed.

Since most of these refugees had arrived in the past 12 months, a key challenge was improving their English language skills. Most wanted more opportunities for conversational English and workplace English to assist in gaining employment. But for many, this was a Catch-22. The new arrivals needed to keep applying for jobs and attend English classes, but couldn’t do both at the same time.


Australian Research Council, Author provided

The adult refugees we surveyed were unanimously thankful to the Australian government and people for giving them and their families the opportunity for a new life. They desperately want to give back and contribute to their new country. But most had not yet found a job in Queensland.

This is of course a national problem, as the BNLA survey shows. But in our research, we found those in regional Toowoomba fared worse than those in Brisbane. Most of the Toowoomba residents expressed a desire to stay in the community, though, and would happily do so if they could find a job.


Australian Research Council, Author provided

Good place to raise children

Despite these early difficulties learning English and finding employment, an overwhelming majority of new refugees in Queensland (86%) reported feeling safe in their neighbourhoods, slightly lower than the national BNLA figure (93%). Again, Toowoomba is the standout: 100% of refugees felt safe living there.


Australian Research Council, Author provided

Overwhelmingly, most respondents also felt the arduous journey from Syria and Iraq had been worth it – 85% of all Queensland respondents believe they’ve found a neighbourhood that’s a good place to bring up children.


Australian Research Council, Author provided

Their children also revealed a strong sense of belonging, despite early feelings of loss and isolation. This is again higher in Toowoomba and lower in Logan – a result partially explained by the proactive nature of the community towards refugees in Toowoomba.


Australian Research Council, Author provided

This welcoming environment has been seen in many acts of kindness by teachers, community workers and church leaders. As one 14-year-old Afghan girl told us:

I was homesick. I was like there’s nowhere to go. We didn’t know many people around, like our own Afghanis. … So, the good thing in my life that happened last year was Ross, the pastor, came to our home and introduced us to church. Though we are not Christians, we still go there. It’s a youth group. So there we found many friends. We got to know more about other Afghanis living in Toowoomba and other cultures.

The ConversationAt a time when the integration of immigrant communities is being questioned, this study shows new arrivals to regional areas are actually doing well, and those in communities that welcome them may have the best support of all.

Jock Collins, Professor of Social Economics, UTS Business School, University of Technology Sydney and Carol Reid, Professor, Western Sydney University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Why big projects like the Adani coal mine won’t transform regional Queensland


John Cole, University of Southern Queensland

Queensland election campaigns often focus on big projects for the regions, such as for roads, power plants and mines. But research suggests that mega projects, such as in gas and coal, have not transformed skills or improved employment prospects in regional Queensland.

Take away the temporary booms from construction and other short-term jobs, and employment growth overall is no better than before the global financial crisis. Certainly Queensland’s regions are no more resilient. Instead of these mega projects, what’s needed are new sources of economic value in knowledge, services, and technology.


Read more: Here’s 49 small communities innovating as well as the big cities


Between 2010 and 2013 investment in coal mining surged 400% in the Bowen Basin. Further south, in the Surat Basin and at Gladstone, four international consortia spent more than A$70 billion fast-tracking a coal seam and liquid natural gas industry.

These projects fell far short of generating new skills and enduring businesses in the regions. Continuing dependence on resources and agriculture also creates its own vulnerabilities, as both are challenged by market and investment volatility, and increased climate risk.

Overall the focus on mega projects has weakened social and economic resilience in communities across Queensland. Resilience refers to the capacity of regional communities to handle risks and manage change. Resilient regions deepen and diversify their economies.

Megaproject sugar highs

Annual construction spending in the resources sector peaked at A$36.6 billion in Queensland in 2013-14, and has dropped by 70% since. Unemployment has doubled in Queensland’s northern, central and outback regions.

The impact is seen in Townsville, Rockhampton, and Gladstone, who are now pitching to become bases for “Fly In Fly Out” workers. Rather than drive their own local economic development, these cities are punting on the next big mining project.

Gladstone is already the pin-up of the construction boom-bust development model. The port city boasts a highly trained workforce in alumina and aluminium processing, cement, liquid natural gas and chemical manufacturing. Still, it waits on the next big mining construction boom.


Read more: If Queenslanders vote on economic issues the Labor government is looking good


What regional Queensland really needs is politicians to abandon short-term economic fixes, in favour of a sustainable long term vision. Policies would have greater impact if they focused on skills and enterprise training. Stronger regional collaboration to broker opportunities for smart businesses is essential.

Just north of Brisbane, Moreton Regional Council is showing the way by transforming a former industrial site into a university campus. Tertiary education will come to the fast growing region along with a research and technology park, creating the jobs of the future.

Regional Queensland can also learn from the European Commission’s “smart specialisation” structural assistance programs that help regions build knowledge-based competitive industries through strategic public funding and support for research and development etc.

By 2020, smart specialisation in Europe is expected to deliver 15,000 new products to market, 140,000 new startups and 350,000 new jobs.

Integral to the European strategy is strong collaboration between the research and university sectors, and regional industries. Strong cooperation between levels of government is key to the success. The industries are as varied as cheese manufacturing in Spain, new transport systems in Finland, and materials manufacturing in France.

The Europeans have found that changing business culture and boosting entrepreneurship are just as important to creating opportunity as large infrastructure projects.

What Queensland should do

Queensland should rethink its big projects for a big country approach. Regional jobs that depend on project investment without generating local income are not sustainable. Small business and community must be restored to centre stage in development strategy.

Small and medium businesses collectively account for more than 99% of all business in Queensland, and three times as many people work in the state’s A$20 billion manufacturing sector (169,000) as work directly in the resources sector (48,000).

But small and medium businesses lack the profile of the “big end of town”, and the large resources companies have been effective at selling the narrative that they are central to the A$300 billion Queensland economy.


Read more: Bust the regional city myths and look beyond the ‘big 5’ for a $378b return


The priority for developing Queensland’s regions should be investment that generates small business growth, local income, new skills and communities. Particular emphasis has to be given to attracting and retaining talented people.

The state government can best help regional Queensland by heeding the Productivity Commission’s call to help regional Australia adapt and exploit the opportunities of ever present change. This requires greater local initiative, making the most of competitive strengths, and training people to better engage with the world.

The global services sector is a $US47 trillion industry. For regional Queensland to tap into this sector will require skills in fields as diverse as big data, biotechnology, genetics, robotics, communications, and digital manufacturing.

A good start has been made in the Advance Queensland Regional Innovation Programs which have challenged regions to think outside the box, collaborate, and come up with their own strategies. It complements the federal government’s Building Better Regions Fund.

The ConversationThis approach challenges the current politically dominated top down model of regional development. It’s a vision for regional Queensland that extends beyond resources, agriculture, tourism and construction to the people themselves.

John Cole, Executive Director, Institute for Resilient Regions, University of Southern Queensland

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

This is how regional rail can help ease our big cities’ commuter crush



File 20170807 19106 1rhefi7
Rail investments have brought Ballarat, Geelong and other regional centres closer in travel time to Melbourne than many outer suburbs.
Tony & Wayne/flickr, CC BY-NC

Michael Buxton, RMIT University

In Sydney and Melbourne, the squeeze is on. Population is booming; house prices are still rising; roads and trains are congested. Australian governments generally have ignored the benefits of relating metropolitan and regional planning.

However, some state governments are now investigating more integrated sectoral and spatial planning strategies, initially through shifting public sector jobs to regional centres.

In particular, improved regional rail connections do work. Already rail investments have brought Ballarat, Geelong and other regional centres closer in travel time to Melbourne than many outer suburbs, and this trend will continue.


Further reading: Commuters help regions tap into city-driven growth


Sydney has similar opportunities with regional rail connections, but has not yet exercised them. Rail services to and from Gosford, Newcastle and Wollongong have improved little over recent decades.

Rail bypasses clogged arteries

For decades, policymakers’ preferred solution to congestion has been adding and widening freeways. But promises of faster travel times and freer movement have been illusory. New roads and freeway lanes induce more traffic and will provide short-lived solutions in our biggest cities.


Further reading: Traffic congestion: is there a miracle cure? (Hint: it’s not roads)


These cities are the main drivers of Australia’s national economy, attracting advanced business service professionals and knowledge providers.

Access to high-value jobs, transport arteries that function well, and better-managed population growth will become critically important to urban economies as these cities move towards populations of 8 million people.

In Sydney and Melbourne, critics are claiming that major new road projects such as WestConnex and the Western Distributor will increase central city traffic congestion, particularly for work-related journeys.


Further reading: Modelling for major road projects is at odds with driver behaviour


Victoria proves regional rail works

Contrast that with the success of regional rail development. Victoria has invested several billion dollars in a series of projects. These have raised maximum regional train speeds to provincial cities to 160kph, increased reliability, provided new and much faster trains and transformed frequency.

Victoria’s investment in regional rail has quadrupled train services and almost halved travel time between Ballarat and Melbourne.
Hugh Llewelyn/flickr, CC BY-SA

The 119km peak-hour trip from Ballarat to Melbourne before these investments took two hours, with four trains a day on offer. Today 22 daily trains operate in each direction between Melbourne and Ballarat. Boarding the 4.33pm from Southern Cross delivers passengers to Ballarat 65 minutes later.

From Geelong, the transformation has been even greater. The recently completed Regional Rail Link runs 55 daily trains each way. The project was the first to be approved by Infrastructure Australia, backed by A$3.8 billion in state and Commonwealth funding.

Patronage boom calls for more work

These upgrades, however, have become victims of their own success. Some lines have recorded a 300% increase in patronage. Similar increases are projected for the next decade.

Remarkably, within two years of opening, patronage growth has already reached capacity on the inner part of the Regional Rail Link (which segregates metropolitan from country trains for travel to and from central Melbourne). There is little or no capacity for extra trains to be run in peak times.

Trains are becoming ever more crowded. Long-distance commuters have valued their ability to work, read or sleep on these trains, especially during their homeward journeys. They must now compete for seats with others from rapidly expanding western suburbs, which are yet to gain their own suburban train services.

A short-term fix would create longer trains of eight carriages instead of six. A medium-term fix would electrify and provide separate services to the part of the Geelong line that serves the new dormitory suburbs.

These changes need to be complemented by more frequent and better co-ordinated feeder bus services to stations. In addition, easily accessed large commuter carparks need to be built on vacant land on the Melbourne side of the major regional centres.

In the longer term, the answer lies in providing more multiple tracks to fully segregate suburban and regional trains in suburban areas. Providing robust double-line railways in each corridor will prevent the cascade effect that occurs when trains delay each other on single lines.

The completion of level-crossing removals will also allow higher operating speeds and safer operations. Trains will be able to move progressively to maximum speeds of 200kph where feasible rather than 160kph.

Regional cities must avoid past mistakes

These rail investments will further promote population growth in regional cities. Already, regionally developed services, more affordable housing stock and less frantic lifestyles are acting as attractors.

It is essential to integrate the planning of major regional transport projects with spatial planning to avoid the undesirable results of fragmented policy.

Some regional centres are repeating the worst mistakes of metropolitan low-density urban sprawl by expanding on greenfield sites far from town centres. Modelling of Victorian regional towns has shown that they contain in-fill opportunities to at least double existing populations and provide a range of affordable housing options.

To maintain liveability for expected high population growth, heavy rail investment is vital. Carefully targeted regional rail investment can shrink distance, provide access to more jobs and better lifestyles, and contribute to wider housing choices.

This investment is a critical requirement for continued prosperity in Australia’s largest urban centres.


This article was co-authored by Bill Russell of the Rail Futures Institute, Melbourne.

The ConversationFind out more about what Victoria can do to overcome the commuter crush at Railway Remedies: Cutting the Crush on Geelong Trains, hosted by the RMIT Centre for Urban Research (CUR) and Deakin University at the Percy Baxter Theatre, Deakin Geelong campus, on Wednesday, August 9.

Michael Buxton, Professor of Environment and Planning, RMIT University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.