Ensuring no one is left behind means ensuring all Australians are digitally included
Linda Berrigan, our Director Brand & Storytelling, shares her thoughts on priority funding areas the Australian Government needs to focus on to close the digital divide for all, for good.
Imagine a world without technology. A world where you don’t have the digital skills you need, access to a device or data, or you simply can’t afford to stay digitally connected to the world around you.
This is the reality for 1 in 4 Australians. They are digitally excluded and are being left behind as cost of living soars and the digital divide widens.
But this is an issue that can be solved. We know that helping people in greatest need to improve their digital skills improves their lives, particularly when they feel safe and supported by someone they trust in their local community.
Helping people connect with the world around them
The Australian Government-funded Be Connected program is a great example of this in action. Since 2017 we’ve built a network of 3,500 community organisations and digital mentors, helping people in communities across the country. Through Be Connected, over one million people have been supported to gain essential digital skills. The program is aimed at over 50s, and has reduced isolation, increased social connections, increased online safety and rates of digital literacy. Something that was absolutely life-saving during the height of the pandemic.
But, the Be Connected program is currently only funded through to June 2024.
We know there are many more people who need digital skills support so they can fully participate in the world around them.
Expanding Be Connected to reach all Australians aged over 18 and investing in tailored programs for priority groups, including women, people with disability, CALD communities and First Nations people, will help us close the digital divide.
Stopping the spread of misinformation
Another digital inclusion factor that is increasingly worrying is the marked increase in threats to our online safety.
The spread of misinformation is causing harm to so many Australians. And, no one is immune.
Even people who consider themselves to be very digitally savvy can be caught out by someone pretending to be a friend or family member or someone asking them for ‘help’. And with upcoming state elections, this year’s historic Indigenous Voice to Parliament Referendum, and the everyday differing conversation and opinions that are prevalent across all digital media channels, it is particularly important that vulnerable people are given support to find trusted information sources and improve their own digital media literacy.
Making digital affordable for all
If you can’t afford a phone, computer or the data you need to connect to the internet you are majorly disadvantaged when it comes to everyday life. For many, the rising cost of living means they are making really tough decisions about where they spend their money. The internet can often be the first to go. And, just because you have a mobile phone doesn’t mean you can do everything you need for work or school or accessing online services like medical appointments or government forms.
We believe that all Australians in need should have access to low or no-cost digital devices and data.
Our Good Things Foundation colleagues in the UK have recently launched the National Device Bank, which aims to provide 2 million households with refurbished donated devices free of charge. These devices are donated by businesses nationwide and then distributed via local community organisations. Establishing something similar in Australia, alongside government funded programs to provide free data to low income families and affordable NBN for all, would go a long way to equalising digital access for all.
Bringing it all together
To close the digital divide and create a stronger, more inclusive and sustainable digital economy, digital inclusion must be incorporated into policy as well as funding decisions.
The time is long overdue for a National Digital Inclusion Strategy in Australia.
It should sit alongside strategies for digital transformation of government services; the future of work strategy; and be considered by the Economic Inclusion Advisory Group. The Strategy must provide a common set of goals for all levels of government to plan, support and fund digital inclusion initiatives in a coordinated manner.
In addition, as part of the Government’s recently established First Nations Digital Inclusion Advisory Group, it is critical that Australia’s Indigenous Digital Inclusion Plan is finalised, funded and implemented. The Indigenous Digital Inclusion Plan must go beyond consultation, involving active decision-making from First Nations people at every stage of co-design and implementation. This means engaging First Nations people experiencing digital exclusion and the community organisations that support them to create a culturally appropriate and specific national digital inclusion strategy that is supported by funding and support.
In our 2023/24 Federal Pre-Budget Submission we outlined four recommendations that are key to closing the digital divide:
- Re-fund the Be Connected essential digital skills program for older Australians for a further five years (2024 – 2029) to support an additional 1 million people.
- Expand Be Connected to support priority groups, investing in tailored digital skills programs and digital media literacy training for adults aged 18-50.
- Ensure all Australians have access to affordable digital devices and data so they can fully participate in the digital world.
- Fund the creation and implementation of a government-led national digital inclusion strategy so all Australians benefit from a coordinated approach.
We’d love you to join us in this journey to digital inclusion for good, for all.
"Ensuring no one is left behind means ensuring all Australians are digitally included. This is an issue that can be solved."