The Commercial Printers Association of Gippsland is probably the only country printers’ association left the country, reports Wayne Robinson
Country printing associations in Australia are not for the faint hearted, mainly due to the sheer distance involved in keeping disparate printing companies in touch with each. One of the few to have survived in recent years, and indeed thrived, is the Gippsland Association.
Gippsland covers a vast area, basically most of Victoria to the east of Melbourne, it is a four hour drive from one side to the other, but this hasn’t stopped 20 or so printing businesses in the area from meeting up and sharing ideas and experiences.
Association president Peter Ceeney of Gippsland Trade Printers says, “There has to be value for people to overcome the tyranny of distance and get to meetings which may be several hours away, and we feel that the sharing of ideas and experiences that the Association provides, especially those which are particular to country printers, is clearly meeting a need, and the Association is continuing to develop.”
The Gippsland Association is not part of Printing Industries although some of its members are. As well as regular meetings with speakers drawn from different parts of the industry there is a biannual conference. Ceeney says, “There is a whole range of intangible benefits that we receive thanks to being part of the Association. The unique challenges and opportunities of being a country printer are in my view much better shared, we can draw on each other’s knowledge and experience. For instance with an engineer sometimes costing upwards of $145 an hour (and incorporating traveltime) we all want to make sure we are getting the best we can, so if one of our members has a good recommendation that is the guy others will use him. We also see some swapping of employees, which is natural, and being able to get the inside track on someone is really helpful for small printing businesses, as staff is one of our biggest issues.
“Many of our members are in competition with each other of course, but we mainly take a mature view and leave the competitive element at the door, when we meet together we are working for the common good, we are looking at the bigger picture for the greater benefits of the print industry in Gippsland. It is without doubt really beneficial to be able to talk and share together.
“For instance, we currently have an issue with apprentices. They have to go to courses at Tafe in Melbourne, for which the Victorian government will pay them $150 per fortnight for accommodation, while the Tasmanian government pays their apprentices $900 plus air fares to attend the same school as the Victoria country guys. No employer, or parent, is going to let their 16 or 17 year old daughter go to Melbourne with just $150 to rent a room for two weeks and having to buy food from that, it would just let them stay in some back street doss house, so we are lobbying the government to change that. One of the advantages of being from the country is that we all know our state MPs, and they know us, so at least we feel we are being heard, whether we are listened to is another matter and remains to be seen.”
Most of the meetings are held in the Warrigal and LaTrobe Valley areas, with members drawn fro a range of print sectors including commercial, trade, digital and screen printers.
Currently one of the main aims of the association is to persuade the local business and government bodies that print for Gippsland is better produced by Gippsland printers. It especially galls when a certain body or authority has as its mission to promote Gippsland but then places print outside the area. Ceeney says, “We are just about to start talking to the relevant people, and are optimistic that all things being equal Gippsland print will remain in Gippsland, as more print produced here means more jobs for Gippsland people and more cash in the Gippsland economy. We at least want to get to the point where a local printer is quoting on every job here. We just want to make buyers aware that there is a perfectly good functioning print industry here that can produce work to the same standards as anywhere else, the quality is not an issue, but the need to keep it local is.”
Parts of Gippsland of course were devastated by the January fires of two years ago, but are now starting to get back on track, and the economy needs all the help it can get. The print industry has suffered as much in Gippsland as anywhere else during the past three years, and there have been closures, but there have also been start-ups, and with membership of the association only costing $40 a year there is no barrier to new printers joining. The only criteria is that they have to have a commercial premises, one guy operating with an old photocopier out of his bedroom is not going to be a member.
Ceeney has been president of the association for the past three years, and is comfortable with the position. He says., “It is always a balance because of course I have my own business to run, and that is continuing to grow so demands a lot of time, but I really enjoy the association. For people like me, it is really good to be able to share our experiences.”