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SA lags behind on critical digital frontier

MEDIA RELEASE: As Adelaide prepares to host the 11th Australian Space Forum(link is external) tomorrow, SACOSS is highlighting the other end of the technology spectrum, where many South Australians still struggle with digital connection and digital literacy.

South Australia consistently rates as the lowest mainland state in the Australian Digital Inclusion Index(link is external) which measures online access, affordability and the ability to do things online.

"The space industry is the pinnacle of high-tech ambition and having a space industry based in Adelaide offers potential commercial and employment opportunities for some South Australians, but if we don’t also ensure that people at the other end of the tech-access spectrum have access to the basic digital technologies we will simply increase inequality and entrench a dangerous digital divide," stated SACOSS CEO Ross Womersley.

"South Australia’s comparatively poor record in digital inclusion has long been a source of concern and it is brought into stark relief when we see the ambitions of leading the nation in the high-tech space industry. We simply can’t have a situation where some South Australians are looking at the stars with the best technology in the world, while others are struggling to get basic government information on a small screen of a mobile phone which is their only piece of technology.
"From children falling behind at school because they don’t have home internet, to those trying to manage internet bills with pre-paid plans losing connection at the end of every month, and those who struggle to understand the technology or how to find what they want online, the digital divide is very real and painful. 
"Ultimately, we want every kid in school today to have an equal chance to be part of the space industry, and that can’t happen if their digital journey is delayed by not having online access at home or by other barriers of education, employment or culture.

"We hope that the state government will very wholeheartedly get behind promoting digital inclusion in South Australia, in the way that it has got behind the space industry."
- Ross Womersley, SACOSS

"SA has so much going for it. Let's invest in a truly digitally inclusive future, so people aren't left behind in accessing all we need and expect for our community in today's modern life, and more of our young people can reach their dreams," Mr Womersley stated.


The growing role of digital inequality
Digital exclusion is the new frontier of inequality and a growing driver of poverty. To be digitally included means more than simply owning a computer or smartphone. It is about using online and digital technologies to access employment, education, training, commerce and government services; and to enhance quality of life. Yet not everyone is able to make full use of digital technologies – there is a digital divide which threatens to exclude those not digitally connected. This divide reflects and compounds other areas of socio-economic disadvantage, and as more people, government and business services and more cultural interactions go online, the divide gets deeper. The COVID pandemic has also underlined this.

Digital inclusion in SA
The Australian Digital Inclusion Index (link is external)measures the personal use of digital technologies with scores reported in relation to access, ability and affordability. Alarmingly South Australia consistently rates below the national average and is the second worst performing state or territory in Australia (only ahead of Tasmania). While digital inclusion is increasing, the fact that South Australia is still below the rest of the country has implications for our community and our future economic performance.

What is needed?
SACOSS is proposing an additional investment of $120m by the SA State Government in initiatives to improve digital inclusion. This would double the State Government's existing Digital Restart Fund and could look to recent examples from other state governments, such as NSW and Victoria. An investment at this level would allow for the fund to be expanded to include key issues of public access and digital inclusion, including:

  • Free laptops/notebooks for all secondary school children (modelled on the ACT program).
  • Expansion of the public wifi network – potentially based on expanded school networks, plus funding for Community Centres to provide free wifi.
  • Increased investment in digital inclusion skills, including digital employment skills.
  • A grant fund for community initiatives that boost digital inclusion in South Australia.

Issued 30 May 2021