Once again, Australia is nearing polling day, with the Federal Government due to call an election by May 2022. In the leadup to the election, there is an opportunity for all political parties to commit to tangible steps that will help all Australians thrive in a digital society.
The ADIA has released our Election Policy Recommendations, advocating for policies that will see more people in Australia get online and the digital divide lessen. We encourage politicians running for re-election to adopt these policies and show that digital inclusion is a priority for them and their party.
ADIA Policy Recommendations
Create a Whole-of-Government Digital Inclusion Strategy that is managed by a dedicated departmental team so Australian businesses, nonprofits and government can work together in a coordinated manner. One way to accomplish this would be by making the Digital Technology Taskforce (DTT) out of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet permanent.
Establish a Digital Capabilities Framework to provide a common understanding of what it means to be a digitally capable individual. A framework would outline which digital skills are associated with which level of learning or competency and allow organisations to tailor their training programs to a common reference, ensuring everyone is working towards the same goal.
Enshrine a Low-Cost Broadband Option for people on low incomes that still delivers quality speeds. The ADIA is a signatory of ACCAN’s No Australia Left Offline initiative, which calls for a 50 mbps service for $30 per month to be available to households receiving income support.
Upgrade all Federal Websites to be Compliant with the latest accessibility standards (eg Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) and build new websites and platforms to be accessible from release. Accessibility should not be an afterthought and all Government services should be built for all Australians.
While steps are being taken to improve digital inclusion in Australia, there is still a long way to go. Each year, the Australian Digital Inclusion Index (ADII) tracks digital inclusion throughout Australia. The latest survey was released last week and showed:
Digital inclusion at the national level is improving, from an average Index score of 67.5 in 2020, to 71.1 in 2021.
The number of Australians who are highly excluded remains substantial: 11% of the Australian population is highly excluded, registering an Index score of 45 or below.
People who fall into the lowest income quintile (57.7), people who rent from a public housing authority (57.2), people who did not complete secondary school (57.0), people over 75 years of age (53.5) and mobile-only users (43.4) are being left behind.
The divide between metropolitan and regional areas has narrowed but remains marked. Regional areas record an Index score in 2021 of 67.4. This is 3.6 points less than the national average (71.1), and 5.5 points less than metropolitan Australia (72.9).
Affordability remains central to closing the digital divide. Based on the Affordability measure, 14% of all Australians would need to pay more than 10% of their household income to gain quality, reliable connectivity. For Australians in the lowest income quintile, most (67%) would have to pay more than 10% of their household income to gain this same connection.
Digital Ability has slightly improved, with the national average increasing 0.8 points from 2020 to 64.4 in 2021. But the score for basic operational skills—such as downloading and opening files, connecting to the internet, and setting passwords—has fallen slightly: from 73.5 in 2020 to 73.1 in 2021. This is potentially related to a growth in new users due to the digital uplift of services during COVID-19.
We released our Election Policy Recommendations in connection with Get Online Week, Good Things Foundation Australia’s annual digital inclusion campaign. The ADIA is proud to be an Official Supporter of Get Online Week.
The ADIA would like to thank our members for their support. We are united in our desire to address the digital divide, and the ADIA will continue to advocate for policies to ensure all Australians have the ability and tools to thrive in a digital world.
On Tuesday, 5 October 2021, the ADIA held an event with Connected Future – a shared value partnership between Great Southern Bank, Australian Red Cross and Infoxchange – launching a report that looks at how to improve digital inclusion in disaster-prone communities.
Motivated by the bushfires that ravaged much of Australia in 2019/20, the partnership recognised people with low levels of digital inclusion are often worse-off in disasters, and set about understanding how to better support people living in disaster-prone areas to improve their digital confidence and capability. A design-led approach was used to explore a solution. Throughout the process, it was realised that to see the best results it was necessary to focus on people’s genuine needs, interests and aspirations, as well as their desire to connect with others. By focusing on what was important to the participants, conversations around disaster preparedness and technology happened organically and led to the participants being motivated to learn.
The panel was moderated by Convenor of the ADIA, Ishtar Vij, and included:
Katharine Hopper – Manager – Community, Great Southern Bank
Anna Morgan – Social Innovation Lead, Infoxchange
Carolyn Ratnik – Community Action Coordinator, Australian Red Cross
ADIA Calls for Government Action on Digital Inclusion
The Australian Digital Inclusion Alliance (ADIA) today welcomes the Digital Economy Strategy announced by the Government, but is disappointed it does not include digital inclusion as a cornerstone.
The ADIA applauds the inclusion of connectivity initiatives and digital skills training in the strategy, and looks forward to learning more about these programs. However, the strategy announced today focuses on advanced digital skills and emerging technologies, without addressing the needs of Australians lacking basic digital skills. In order to make Australia a leading digital economy, we must ensure all Australians are able to participate in that economy. Without laying the foundations to increase digital inclusion, the strategy is hindered from day one.
The ADIA released a position paper last year outlining in detail what needs to be done to address digital inclusion in Australia. The ADIA is once again calling on the Government to:
Create a whole-of-government approach to digital inclusion so businesses, nonprofits and government can work towards the same goal.
Build a Digital Capabilities Framework that provides a common understanding and goal for what it means to be a digitally capable individual.
Take action to ensure permanent internet affordability measures.
Ensure all federal, state and local government websites are compliant with the latest accessibility standards.
The Australian Digital Inclusion Index (ADII) shows a large number of Australians are digitally excluded, especially seniors, those in low-income households, rural and remote Australians, people with a disability, and First Nations People. In a time when services – both public and private – are moving online, Australians must be digitally included to participate in the modern economy.
The ADIA acknowledges this strategy is a living document, and we are committed to working with the Government on initiatives to increase digital inclusion, so all Australians can participate in our rapidly-digitising society.
On 25 March 2021, the ADIA held a virtual meet up to discuss mental health and digital inclusion.
The panel provided an overview of research on mental health and online forums, discussed designing online programs that meet the needs of people with complex mental health issues, and innovation in health and wellbeing technology, amongst other topics.
The panel was moderated by ADIA Chair David Spriggs and included:
Anthony McCosker – Associate Professor, Media and Communication at Swinburne University
Dr Michelle Blanchard – Deputy CEO at SANE Australia
Professor Jane Burns – Melbourne Medical School, University of Melbourne
Please see below for resources and programs mentioned by the panelists:
A note from Anthony McCosker written after the event, including links to relevant research
Hitnet – Brings information and services to Indigenous Australians
Watch the Meet Up here:
First Report of the Australian Broadband Advisory Council
With the recent launch of our position paper – A National Digital Inclusion Roadmap – we have been discussing the recommendations with stakeholders. One of those is the Australian Broadband Advisory Council (Advisory Council), which provides advice to the Communications Minister on ways to maximise the benefits of the National Broadband Network (NBN) and other high speed networks in key sectors of the economy.
Today, the Advisory Council released its first report – Riding the Digital Wave: Report on COVID-19 Trends and Forward Work Program. This first report looks at the best ways to use broadband to support Australia’s economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. The ADIA commends the Advisory Council on its thorough outline of how it will approach its work program over the coming six months. The report makes important recommendations, including supporting digital inclusion initiatives and lifting the digital skills of Australians.
We are pleased to see the Advisory Council include and support our recommendations in its report:
“The Australian Digital Inclusion Alliance recommended:
creating a Digital Capabilities Framework to provide a common understanding and goal for what it means to be a digitally capable individual.
assessing which affordability measures taken in the immediate response to COVID-19 can be retained going forward, including a permanent low cost option for those on low income.
moving towards all federal, state and local government websites being compliant with the latest accessibility standards (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines – WCAG 2.1).
ABAC notes and supports the proposals from the Australian Digital Inclusion Alliance and will draw on evidence provided by the 2020 Australian Digital Inclusion Index in our work on regional investment.” (page 21)
The ADIA appreciates the opportunity to work with the Advisory Council and other stakeholders towards increasing digital inclusion in Australia. We also saw today, the NBN Futures Group release its report –Towards a National Broadband Strategy for Australia – which similarly endorses the ADIA recommendations.ADIA members and their valuable feedback from the frontline are what drives the policies and insights we provide to government, and we’d like to thank the members for their participation throughout the year. We’ve made great strides in 2020 shining a spotlight on the need for digital inclusion and we will continue our work to reduce the digital divide in Australia.
Australian Broadband Advisory Council Riding the Digital Wave: Report on COVID-19 Trends and Forward Work Program Key Findings
Recognition of Digital Inclusion as a Key Issue
The report recognises digital inclusion is an important piece of the puzzle. “COVID-19 has had a severe impact across the economy and as a consequence, some sectors and issues require immediate action. These include digital skills, digital inclusion and ongoing support for SMEs to adopt digital capabilities.” (page 8)
It highlights that vulnerable sectors of society have difficulty accessing the internet, especially when public facilities were closed during COVID-19 shutdowns. “The ability to get online is not the same for all Australians and the online shift has left vulnerable cohorts exposed.
Decreased access to internet as libraries, co-working spaces and universities closed due to COVID-19
Increased internet affordability concerns as large number of workers face unemployment
Increased health implications as cohorts with low digital skills face barriers to receiving COVID-19 health advice” (page 11)
The report notes that remote learning and training will be vital moving forward, but that COVID-19, “has also revealed key limitations, such as the prerequisite of digital skills, computer equipment and internet connection to undertake training online.” (page 16) It also mentions that quality internet is critical to ensure Australians do not fall behind.
Connectivity and Devices
ABAC highlights the necessity of connection and devices for remote learning, noting that having a “heavier reliance on broadband clearly exposed vulnerable groups.”
ABAC made two commitments to help ensure Australians are connected and have the correct devices for remote learning:
“ABAC will pursue a coordinated mechanism so economically vulnerable groups can access devices and bandwidth on affordable terms.
ABAC is continuing to consult on how public institutions, including public libraries, can support capacity building, and next generation WiFi enabled working environments for those who cannot work or study at home.” (Page 21)
Defining Digital Inclusion
ABAC identifies three main drivers for digital inclusion: Access, Affordability and Ability.
“Access to the internet is defined by the availability, quality, capacity and flexibility of an internet connection.”
“Affordability refers to the cost of internet connections relative to other living expenses.”
“Ability refers to the IT skills and attitudes needed to confidently use the internet.” (page 17)
The ADIA has released a position paper – A National Digital Inclusion Roadmap – outlining what should be done to increase digital inclusion in Australia. The ADIA recommends:
A whole-of-government strategy should be developed – a National Digital Inclusion Roadmap – so businesses, nonprofits and government can work towards the same goal.
While the Roadmap is being developed, specific initiatives can be initiated:
Creating a Digital Capabilities Framework to provide a common understanding and goal for what it means to be a digitally capable individual.
Assessing which internet services affordability measures taken in the immediate response to COVID-19 can be retained going forward. This may include a permanent low cost option for those on low incomes.
Move towards all federal, state and local government websites being compliant with the latest accessibility standards.
You can access the documents by clicking on the links below:
For the last six months, we have adjusted our lives to an online world. Now we are realising that when Australia adjusts to COVID-normal, many of the programs and services forced to digitise will not revert to operating as they did before the pandemic. This will only highlight the digital inequity in Australia.
Even before the pandemic, Australians were being left behind because they did not have the affordable access or the skills necessary to participate in a digital world. Now, with coronavirus expediting the digitisation of our daily lives, addressing digital inclusion in Australia must be a priority.
Get Online Week, an annual international campaign to promote digital inclusion, was 19 October to 25 October 2020. Around the country, events were held to help Australians develop the skills they need to thrive in a digital world. The will to tackle digital exclusion in Australia is there – but we need a whole-of-government approach and a Digital Capabilities Framework to ensure the effort is coordinated and directed where it is needed most.
The ADIA lodged a submission in response to the Western Australia Government’s draft Blueprint for a Digitally-Inclusive State. The ADIA commends the WA Government on its work in drafting a whole-of-government strategy to address digital inclusion and the identification of the various initiatives in the consultation draft. In addition to the work proposed on digital skills, the ADIA suggests the WA Government leverage opportunities to promote the development and adoption of a National Digital Capabilities Framework, which would define at a national level the skills Australians need to thrive in modern society.
This month the ADIA held a webinar about digital inclusion and the impact of COVID-19 on community organisations working to bridge the digital divide. The webinar brought together organisations within the City of Yarra in Melbourne to share challenges faced, strategies adopted and their learnings from the pandemic.
Chaired by David Spriggs, the webinar brought together:
Maree Foelz – Family Violence Partnerships Coordinator at the Neighbourhood Justice Centre
Elle Morrell – Community Development Coordinator & Manager of the Open Door community hub Carlton Neighbourhood Learning Centre
Rei Chin – Community Development Manager at Carringbush Adult Education
Conor Sibly – Community Development Worker involved in the North Richmond Capacity Building Initiative through the Belgium Avenue Neighbourhood House
Natasha Savic – Coordinator of Resources and Technology at Yarra Libraries
Jess Perrin – Head of Social Innovation & Digital Inclusion at Infoxchange
If you couldn’t make the event or you would like to share the discussion with colleagues, a recording is available here.
The ADIA has written to the Prime Minister calling on the Government to commit to a National Digital Inclusion Roadmap. We have proposed that initiatives covered by the Roadmap include:
Access and affordability of internet services – removing cost as a prohibitive barrier;
Digital Ability – ensuring that everyone has the skills and confidence to benefit from and complete activities on the Internet; and
Accessibility – allowing everyone to use the internet including those living with disability, from culturally or linguistically diverse backgrounds, or with other needs.