We need a plan and sustained investment to ensure no South Australian is left behind in the digital world.
Digital inclusion is about 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. There is no doubt that digital technologies are now taking a key role in our economic and social life, but there is a “digital divide” where large numbers of people don’t have the online access or capability to take advantage of the technology.
As more people, more businesses and more government services go online, the disadvantages of being digitally excluded increase – the digital divide becomes narrower but deeper. This digital exclusion reflects and compounds other areas of disadvantage, with people on lower incomes, older people, and people living with disability all likely to be less included in the digital world.
The Australian Digital Inclusion Index (ADII) measures three key dimensions of digital inclusion (access, affordability and digital ability) on the basis of a range of survey questions relating to internet products, services and activities. The answers are then benchmarked against a “perfectly digitally included” individual, a hypothetical person who scores in the highest range for every question. In almost every iteration of the Index, South Australia scores poorly by comparison with the rest of country.
The fact that South Australia lags behind in digital inclusion has implications for our community and our future economic performance. We have an opportunity to address digital inclusion now and ensure that all South Australians can participate in our technologically-driven society, or we risk leaving many people behind.
What SACOSS is calling for
- 2.1 A commitment to a set of digital inclusion goals or benchmarks outlined by SACOSS (see below)
We hope that the goals we have listed here will form part of the state Digital Inclusion Strategy, or at least that the Strategy will take us toward those goals. And if so, we would want to see an investment of a similar size to the Digital Restart Fund ($120m) to deliver on the goals and strategy.
- 2.2 A significant ($120m) state government investment to implement a strategy to reach those goals.
We are hoping that the government’s Digital Inclusion Strategy will take us toward the goals we have outlined, but in reality, any strategy is only as good as its implementation. Making progress on digital inclusion will require more than a strategy. It will require sustained investment by government and the community – to provide the public infrastructure and technology, to develop the skills and learnings needed to keep pace with new technologies, and to ensure that affordability, language or regional geography does not exclude anyone in our digital future.
As discussed below, the state government has invested $120m in its Digital Restart Fund aimed at improving its own information technology services (which will also benefit the online public), but it needs to invest a similar amount in supporting the community to get online.
Digital inclusion goals for SA:
- All South Australians
- Have access to internet connections beyond their mobile phone
- Have a base level of digital competency as measured by an agreed framework
- Are able to access South Australian government websites and information without barriers of disability, language, cultural background or data cost.
- All South Australian children in secondary school
- All South Australian Children in secondary school have their own access to devices and data at home to enable them to do school work, research and assignments, and online-schooling where necessary.
- All South Australians living with disability
- All South Australians Living with Disability have access to adequate affordable data to enable the use of assistive technology appropriate to them.
- Public access points
- Every suburb and regional town has at least one all-weather public internet access facility with computers, printers and long opening hours
- All Local Government Areas have at least one secure, non-commercial public wi-fi network accessible from multiple public venues.
We hope that these goals will form part of the state Digital Inclusion Strategy, or at least that the Strategy will take us toward those goals. And if so, we would want to see an investment of a similar size to the Digital Restart Fund ($120m) to deliver on the goals and strategy.
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced more interactions and services online. It has highlighted the potential to reach more people in more ways, but also how far those who are digitally excluded will fall behind. Nationally, according to the Australian Digital Inclusion Index, digital inclusion is increasing overall – but in 2021, the lowest income households scored 15.5 points below the average digital inclusion score. Similarly, SACOSS’ research on waged poverty highlights exclusion issues, and that digital technology is becoming crucial for a wide range of jobs – including those not traditionally seen as part of the digital economy like retail, nursing, delivery, and social work.
SA Government's 'Digital Restart Fund' has limited scope
The SA government recognises the importance of digital technology, and its 2020-21 budget included a $120m investment in a Digital Restart Fund to improve government ICT and the public’s digital service access. This is a significant investment in government’s digital capacity and may improve the government/public interface. However, the scope of the Digital Restart Fund is limited as it does not ensure that citizens have access and skills to use the technologies and take advantage of improved government platforms. There are clear examples from other states where government digital investment goes beyond simply improving ICT and also improves digital inclusion in the community. A strong commitment from the South Australian government can help our state on the path to digital inclusion.
Government work towards a digital inclusion strategy
The SA Department of Premier and Cabinet has been undertaking development of a Digital Inclusion Strategy, co-designed with industry, the community sector and government. SACOSS has been involved in this co-design process and notes the enthusiasm and knowledge being shared by participants. This process presents an opportunity to address the deep-seated digital exclusion that is embedded in poverty and inequality, and to ensure digital readiness for our state.
Necessary areas for investment
SACOSS has identified crucial areas for commitment and investment – a set of goals (listed above) that will help drive the digital inclusion agenda, ensuring people can keep up and stay engaged in our changing world. These goals are aimed at enabling all South Australians to have the skills and resources that they need to adapt to the fast paced, innovative nature of our increasingly online society.
Policy briefs, reports and fact sheets:
- 2. Policy Brief: Digital Inclusion
- Waged Poverty and Telecommunications Affordability
- Fact sheet: Digital Inclusion in South Australia: Regional Data (Nov 2021)
- Connectivity Costs: Telecommunications Affordability for Low Income Australians (2016)
Media releases and media:
- Media Release: State Government's digital skills announcement a welcome step - but more to do
- Media Release: SACOSS Regional Roundtable for Yorke and North region: spotlight on digital inclusion, housing and services
- Media Release: Digital inclusion: regional SA lags behind Adelaide & national regions
- Media Release: Digital inclusion improves, but SA still lags
- Media Release: SA lags behind on critical digital frontier
- Podcast: Inclusion Index mapping people's access to digital technologies (14 March 2017)
- Podcast: Digital Inclusion for CALD and Older Australians (March 2017)
- Podcast: People on low incomes face exclusion from digital technologies (March 2017)