A Ballarat freight business is fighting to keep its doors open, after its parent company lost a contract to deliver daily papers to the region.
- A Ballarat freight company is no longer delivering Melbourne newspapers to Victoria’s west
- A regional newsagent says deliveries are being delayed since a new courier took over the role
- The change is also making life more expensive for a local newspaper
And it’s not the only regional industry reeling from the loss of a long-standing News Corp contract, which transferred to a new provider in the past week.
A News Corp spokesman confirmed the company had awarded the regional tender to deliver its newspapers — which include the Herald Sun and The Weekly Times — to Samx Express, based in Sunshine West.
Paper Freight, which operates out of Wendouree, delivered Melbourne newspapers from the capital city to western Victoria up until last Sunday, ending a 37-year arrangement.
Managing director Dennis Collins said the change had its roots in Australian Community Media’s decision to close its Ballarat print site in September.
“That’s where all your country papers are printed, plus The Age and Financial Review,” he said.
“They are all printed out of the News Corp site in Melbourne now, so it’s all on one truck going up to Horsham.
“There is a company called Consolidated Media Distributors in Melbourne who we work for. The tender came up and CMD lost it, and a Melbourne company got it.
“People up in Swan Hill and Mildura, Shepparton and Albury-Wodonga, Allens Freight down in Warrnambool, Caledonian in Ballarat, all the country contractors have lost their work to Melbourne people.”
Mr Collins said his business had lost a lot of money and staff as a result. “I’ve gone down to five people; we used to have 40,” he said.
“I’m selling all my trucks, so we’ll have five people working there to do what little work we’ve got.”
Mr Collins said Paper Freight was still delivering community papers to towns including Horsham and Ararat, but was operating with just one truck to remain viable.
The late news
Rod Wilton runs the newsagency in St Arnaud, a town with a population of about 2000 — three hours from Melbourne and 90 minutes from Paper Freight’s Ballarat base.
He said the change to a new courier had already cost him customers.
“This week, I’ve received my papers between quarter past seven and quarter past nine in the morning,” he says.
“That’s a problem because as with many small newsagencies in country Victoria, we are owner-operators, so we can’t afford to have staff standing around waiting around for papers to be delivered.
“It puts me behind the eight ball.”
Mr Wilton said the town had an elderly population and many tradespeople for whom newspapers were the preferred method of receiving information.
He had heard of similar delivery issues in the nearby towns of Charlton and Wedderburn.
“I’m missing out on that trade. It’s probably cost me 10 customers who have decided if this is going to continue like this they won’t worry about purchasing the Herald Sun,” he said.
Another straw for the camel’s back?
Mr Wilton said there were concerns that St Arnaud’s local newspaper, the North Central News, would need to increase its selling price as a result of the changes, which might discourage people from buying it.
“People won’t know about births, deaths or garage sales. It’s good for people’s mental health to know what’s happening in their patch,” he said.
Peter Marland, the paper’s owner and publisher, said the North Central News used Pacific Freight to deliver his publications on the same truck that took the Melbourne papers.
It still uses Pacific Freight, but Mr Marland said the company’s freight charges had increased by $550 a week since Consolidated Media Distribution lost the contract for the city papers.
“Our intention is to keep printing, but we might have to change printers.”
Despite the printing press closure last year, Paper Freight’s Dennis Collins said he didn’t see the change coming.
“We’ve never had a problem with delivering the papers, they are always there bright and early,” he said.
“We used to train a driver for two weeks before putting them in a truck. It was not just about delivering papers, it was about road safety at night, and teaching them the pros and cons of where they had to go.”
However a News Corp spokesman said Consolidated Media Distributors had been given ample notice.
A News Corp Australia spokesman said: “In order for our business to remain sustainable for the long term and to continue servicing regional Victorians with the best in news and information we put our long-standing contract with CMD out to competitive tender and awarded it to Samx Express with 18 months notice provided to CMD.”