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  • Writer's pictureThe Beagle

Council in the local media: inclusion, and improving transparency and accountability

In January 2022 NSW Minister for Local Government Shelley Hancock endorsed amendments to local government regulations allowing councils to only put notices about their activities and decisions on their own websites. Such notices might include water, garbage traffic changes and feral animal or noxious weed control. On 17 April 2020, the Environmental Planning and Assessment Regulation 2000 was amended to remove the requirement on councils to notify planning matters or development applications in local newspapers and instead require them to advertise on council websites or on the NSW Government's Planning Portal. NOTE that the DA notifications required pre-Hancock decision were DAs approved, not those lodged awaiting processing including consideration of any submissions. At the time it was suggested that the move would create a digital divide between Australians as the removal of public notices from local newspapers would force elderly and low-income residents to search for essential community information online. The amendment came in under the radar by way of Covid with the Office of Local Government initially offering the justification by way of: The requirement for councils to make certain documents available for physical inspection at their offices has been modified to allow access to the documents to be provided remotely. but also adding: In addition to these temporary measures, in response to the closure of some local newspapers and to assist councils to reduce their costs, the Local Government (General) Regulation 2005 (the Regulation) has been amended to remove requirements for newspaper advertising. This amendment is not temporary and will continue to apply after the COVID-19 pandemic passes. Publishers like ACM, who publish the Bay Post and Narooma News, jumped up and down and declared that the loss of council advertising revenue would "compound the difficulties of local newspapers which have already been forced to suspend printing and stand down employees as a result of the economic impact of virus control measures". source

The claim was that ratepayers in NSW will have to trawl council websites for information and it would "disproportionately affect those without internet access, especially the elderly and low-income households".

ACM executive chairman Antony Catalano said at the time that the NSW government's decision was "disappointing because regional people relied on local newspapers for information about government decisions".


But all the while the Eurobodalla Council Communications team continued to issue their Noticeboards and Notices to the local print news. Adding to this they developed and distributed the quality quarterly Council newsletter to residents and ratepayers keeping them abreast of changes, accomplishments and proposals. Next came other newsletters focussed on areas of special interest The demand for local news print has diminished, evident by the cessation of the 150 year old Moruya Examiner and the slide of the once relevant Bay Post; from 30 or more pages, twice weekly, to just 16 pages once per week, one of which was a full page Council Noticeboard. Eurobodalla, after the fires, is a different place when it comes to local news. Most of our elderly are now technologically switched on as a result of the need for free, timely, accurate news by way of reputable on-line news sources and radio. Waiting for a wafer thin Wednesday paper to tell them what happened last Friday was no longer acceptable. The Covid era added to their skill set by improving family communication via the internet. Facetime and other alternates are as accessible as making a phone call to most. Rising like a phoenix was a generation of switched on, informed and included residents whose only use for the free community paper was for the TV guide, the crossword or as a budgie cage liner. This, along with the spike in paper costs, the cessation of deliveries and the increase in subscription costs has led to further impacts on traditional local newspaper sales. Eurobodalla Council is an example of one NSW council going beyond. In addition to their swag of special interest electronic newsletter mailouts and their distribution of quarterly newsletter the Council has continued to deliver their weekly Noticeboard to print media, digital media (The Beagle) and their own website. Whilst the Development Application notices are no longer required to be published the Council makes these readily accessible on their website, supported by the accompanying files of plans etc, along with the mechanism to make a submission. Following recent issues around neighbours not being advised of Development Applications that fall outside of the norms of the local Development Control Plans or the Local Environmental Plan (LEP) The Beagle has recognised that the there was an opportunity to further improve public awareness of developments that might be happening in the region. This week sees the inaugural weekly Current Development Applications listings, offering a link to an easy to read .pdf (for those who prefer such things) and a direct link to the latest Development Applications. Next week will see the return of the Weekly Council Noticeboard. Subscribe to Council News Council's monthly email newsletter provides a short and sharp overview of all Council’s news, information and events.

Special interest newsletters Council also distributes a range of other newsletters focussed on areas of special interest. You can opt in to receive one or more of these when you subscribe to Council News, or subscribe individually here:

You can also follow on Facebook and follow us on Instagram for updates and announcements.

Living in Eurobodalla newsletter Council's quarterly print newsletter includes a three-month calendar of seasonal events and information about Council services and projects. Living in Eurobodalla is sent to households, businesses and post office boxes each quarter. You can also pick up a copy at our customer service centre in Moruya or your local library.

As less and less of the community buy local papers there are ample opportunities for alternates such as independent news sources to step in and fill the void around public notices that were once the bread and butter of the trusted mastheads, now reduced irrelevant slivers of their former selves.

Comments


NOTE: Comments were TRIALED - in the end it failed as humans will be humans and it turned into a pile of merde; only contributed to by just a handful who did little to add to the conversation of the issue at hand. Anyone who would like to contribute an opinion are encouraged to send in a Letter to the Editor where it might be considered for publication

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