Government urged to address the digital divide
9 March 2021 at 4:58 pm
Advocates are calling for the government to create a National Digital Inclusion Roadmap
Charity leaders warn that vulnerable people will be left behind in the COVID-forced transition to online services unless the federal government takes urgent action to address digital exclusion.
The Charities Crisis Cabinet (CCC) last week sent a letter to the prime minister and Digital Economy Minister Senator Jane Hume urging the government to take action on improving digital inclusion across Australia and supporting digital transformation in the charity sector.
The letter said that those unable to use digital technologies found it increasingly difficult to participate in Australia’s economic and social life, especially with COVID-19 forcing many services online.
It also noted that many charities lacked the capacity to pivot their services and community engagement online, highlighting a digital divide in the sector.
“The CCC are committed to supporting the Australian recovery from COVID-19, but unless we address the digital divide, many charities and the communities they serve will be left behind,” the letter said.
“It is critical that the Morrison government leverage the development of the Digital Australia Strategy and accelerate action to address digital inclusion across Australia.”
Last year’s Australian Digital Inclusion Index (ADII) found that many older and low-income Australians were missing out on the benefits of being online, putting them at greater risk of social isolation amid COVID-19 restrictions.
CCC member and Infoxchange CEO David Spriggs told Pro Bono News that Australian charities had seen first hand the impact COVID-19 has had on the sector and the people it supports.
“With the pandemic forcing services and society online, the significant digital divide in Australia became immediately apparent,” Spriggs said.
“Charities were forced to upskill and shift their offerings online, but many of the community members they serve did not have the access or skills necessary to utilise the services.”
While most not-for-profit sector workers have been forced to work from home due to COVID-19, recent research found only 30 per cent of organisations were equipped with the technology to make this change.
In response, Infoxchange last month announced it was developing a new Digital Transformation Hub to help build the digital capability of the sector.
The CCC letter urged the government to partner and invest in the hub, arguing this “would enable a significant shift in the digital preparedness of the sector, with tangible benefits flowing to communities and the economy”.
Spriggs said this hub would be vital to the recovery of the sector.
“Government support [for the hub] is critical to enable us to scale this initiative to fully meet the needs of charities across Australia,” he said.
“If strides towards digital inclusion are not made at this time when it is needed most, then the digital divide will grow and vulnerable Australians and the charities that support them will continue to be left behind.”
Spriggs is also chair of the Australian Digital Inclusion Alliance, which is calling for a whole-of-government strategy to be developed in the form of a National Digital Inclusion Roadmap.
He welcomed Hume’s appointment as minister for the digital economy and said he hoped this would lead to action on a national strategy.
“This appointment provides an opportunity for the Morrison government to build on recent momentum by committing to a National Digital Inclusion Roadmap and funding key initiatives to address the digital divide in the upcoming federal budget,” he said.
A spokesperson for Minister Hume told Pro Bono News that the Morrison government took digital inclusion seriously, stating there were “already initiatives underway across multiple portfolios”.
“As Australia recovers from COVID-19, the government will continue to monitor accessibility and inclusion amongst the most vulnerable within our community,” they said.