Ballarat will lose one of its major industrial players with the closure of the Wendouree print site in October, taking with it 134 jobs.
Regional media company ACM, the owner of The Courier, has announced it will bring an end to an era with the closure of three of its print sites including Ballarat on October 2.
The Courier will continue to be published in a print format, after a new deal was brokered with NewsCorp to have the 153-year-old paper printed in Melbourne.
ACM chief executive officer Allen Williams said the difficult decision was made following a review of all elements of the business and was aimed at ensuring the long-term sustainability of Australia's largest regional media business.
"Even before we saw the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic, many of our printing presses had more capacity than demand," he said in the statement. "As a result we have determined that the overheads of running expensive manufacturing operations are an unsustainable drain on our business and that there are alternatives available to us which provide better commercial outcomes while allowing us to focus on our core publishing business."
Ballarat leaders, led by former premier Steve Bracks, expressed their dismay and disappointment at the closure of the factory.
"It's sad - the unfortunate thing is, as good as the internet is, it's also killed us,"Print wite worker
"When I opened the plant in 2002 I can remember saying this is going to be a great boon for Ballarat because not only will The Courier be printed there, but it will be the regional press," Mr Bracks said.
"It seemed likely this was going to be a hub of activity and jobs and employment, long-term and sustainable. It's very disappointing to see the demise of what was a state-of-the-art printing operation servicing regional papers around the country and providing great skills and opportunities for people in Ballarat. Regrettably, there goes one of the great printing operations in Australia.
Mr Bracks also expressed his feelings for the workers who had adapted to decades of technological change.
Regrettably, there goes one of the great printing operations in Australia.Steve Bracks
"It's very difficult for people who have been in the printing industry for so long and had seen technology changes in that industry. To see this final change of a redundant operation would be heartbreaking."
One worker who spoke to The Courier but did not want to be named said they they thought the plant still had years left to operate successfully.
"It's sad - the unfortunate thing is, as good as the internet is, it's also killed us," he said.
"You'd only have to go back a few years and you'd need a garden trailer to pick The Courier up.
"After going through it (the process), I can understand it a little bit, there was time to talk to management and consult with HR, that was good. But I'm going to find it tough to get another gig somewhere."
AMWU Assistant National Secretary of Print and Packaging Lorraine Cassin said she was alarmed at what it meant for the workers in Ballarat.
"These communities like Ballarat have high unemployment rates, add COVID in and you couldn't pick a worse time to close the site. Many of the workers won't get another job in their community, she said.
Trades Hall Ballarat Secretary Brett Edgington said workers and members were devastated at the news.
"BRTLC Stands in Solidarity with the large Rural Press workforce and will work with the AMWU and ETU to do whatever it takes to secure their entitlements and a fair redundancy - or even better, fight to save their jobs, conditions and the future of the Wendouree site," he said in a statement.
Both unions expressed their concern for what the factory closure would mean for the long term future of The Courier and regional journalism.
We assure you that we are not stepping away from publishing printed copies of our newspapers - to the contrary, the printed newspaper will still play a significant role in the future of ACM.ACM CEO Allen Williams
But Mr Williams insisted the economies established from ACM's printing changes would enable the company to continue to invest in quality journalism and keep papers like The Courier alive for regional communities.
"We assure you that we are not stepping away from publishing printed copies of our newspapers - to the contrary, the printed newspaper will still play a significant role in the future of ACM. We have made the decision that ACM does not need to own print facilities to achieve this objective," he said.
"As part of these changes, we have entered into agreements with News Corp Australia that will see us utilise each other's printing networks. The highly valued mastheads of ACM, News Corp and Nine Entertainment Group will all benefit from the rationalisation of printing centres that will result in cost savings across printing and distribution."
Federal MP and opposition spokesperson for infrastructure and regional development Catherine King described at is "another sad day for the Ballarat community and regional media" and showed no one could take our media sector for granted, "especially in regional communities".
"My thoughts are with the 134 direct workers who will be losing their jobs, as well as their families." Ms King said.
"We must also remember the truck drivers and workers in associated industries who will be affected by these cuts. To see so many job losses - especially now - is simply devastating. Our whole community will have to support these workers and their families through this difficult time.
"These job losses are another symptom of a media sector in crisis. We know that COVID has made things harder, but the support offered doesn't even stack up to what the ACCC told the Government was needed before the pandemic hit."
Victoria Minister for small business Jaala Pulford echoed the disappointment that the jobs could not be kept in the local area.
"This is devastating news for the workers affected by this decision - and we will stand with those members of our community," Ms Pulford said.
"The Courier is a vital part of Ballarat and we take on trust the company's commitment to its future."
An ACM spokesperson said all workers would be able to access their full legal entitlements as part of the closures.
The spokesperson also said there were no firm plans yet established for the Grandlee Drive site in Wendouree following the October closure.
The printing site was purpose built in 2002 for Rural Press, the then owner of The Courier and became a printing hub for a large number of regional publications across western Victoria.
The investment in the modern site followed the closure of on-site printing works beneath the old Courier building at 110 Creswick Road which was itself purpose built in the early 1980's, and increased its capacity to take on more and varied work.
The Age, which has also been published in Wendouree since 2014 will also look to arrangements with NewsCorp to continue printing.
It is not known if ACM's new printing arrangements will affect newspaper deadlines.