RIGHT TO KNOW: Halls Creek resident Lucy Gallagher has started a petition against council's removal of notices and development applications from the paper. Photo: Peter Hardin 080520PHA009

RIGHT TO KNOW: Halls Creek resident Lucy Gallagher has started a petition against council's removal of notices and development applications from the paper. Photo: Peter Hardin 080520PHA009

Rural community fights for its right to know in the local newspaper

Rural communities fight for NSW councils to return government business to local papers like the Manilla Express

Communication
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Halls Creek unofficial mayor Gerard Gallagher and his wife, Lucy, have started a petition against changes to the Local Government Act that allow local councils to forego advertisements of council notices and major development applications in the paper.

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RURAL communities are not prepared to let council notices slide out of their local newspapers without a fight.

Halls Creek unofficial mayor Gerard Gallagher and his wife, Lucy, have started a petition against changes to the Local Government Act that allow local councils to forego advertisements of council notices and major development applications in the paper.

The petition has almost 300 signatures from those who feel the decision will impact transparency, financially burden local rag, the Manilla Express, and highlights a "lack of consideration" for rural communities.

It's wrong for elected officials to make decisions that promote increased marginalisation of outlying towns, Ms Gallagher said.

"There's an issue of trust there [with Tamworth council] already and these changes to the regulations will allow less transparency and less accountability," she said.

"In these times, particularly through the drought and now with COVID-19, the connection and trust in your leaders is of paramount importance."

Halls Creek is about 10 klicks outside Manilla and the Express has been a trusted source of information for the 30-odd families who live in the area since Mr Gallagher's great-grandfather bought the first settler's block in 1889.

The notice amendments were brought in as part of COVID-19 support measures to help councils that are struggling financially, but while the other measures were temporary, notices in newspapers will no longer be required even after the pandemic ends.

Instead, locals will have to trawl council websites to find the information online and there was no community consultation on the decision.

It's the collateral damage done to rural communities when papers collapse and information isn't freely available that's irreparable, Mr Gallagher said.

"If the paper goes, a whole bunch of others are affected with advertising, you can't bring that back in a digital form, not in these areas," he said.

"We don't have to just take whatever they change lying down, there was no consultation they just did it.

"Especially when it's legislation brought about in a crisis, so much goes under the radar, what happens two years down the track when a mining development is approved next to the town and we didn't know about it?"

RIGHT TO KNOW: Lucy Gallagher wants council notices to remain in local papers to keep rural communities connected. Photo: Peter Hardin 080520PHA007

RIGHT TO KNOW: Lucy Gallagher wants council notices to remain in local papers to keep rural communities connected. Photo: Peter Hardin 080520PHA007

Tamworth Regional Council has removed council notices from both the Manilla Express and the Leader, an expected saving of $75,000 per year.

But, there's no indication those notices will return when the COVID-19 pandemic passes.

The council would seriously consider the implications of removing council notices, mayor Col Murray said.

"It's always of concern for those poorly connected residents but at the end of the day the council is in fact a business too, it's a different business from the norm but it still has revenues, it still has expenditures and council is suffering very severely from the lack of those revenues," he said.

"Council is seriously considering the implications of that but we have a budget there to look after also and it's taking an extraordinary hit at the moment and it doesn't own the money, the money belongs to the community and we have to look after that money to use it as wisely and responsibly as we can.

"I don't believe it can be local government's responsibility or in fact any government's responsibility to protect sectors of our industry."

Asked if he would like to see the notices return to local newspapers, Cr Murray said his priority was to get the best bang for the buck for the community and it would be a matter for future discussion.


The story Rural community fights for its right to know in the local newspaper first appeared on The Northern Daily Leader.

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