Federal MPs ignore digital inclusion
Infoxchange is committed to making information and communications technology more available to all Australians – including low income earners. We have been disappointed digital inclusion has not been an issue in the federal election campaign. And so we decided to send a survey to each member of Federal Parliament, in the House of Representatives and the Senate.
The survey asked: 1) What have you done to date to encourage a digitally inclusive society in your electorate? And 2) What do you plan to do to encourage a digitally inclusive society in your electorate?
As of August 20, 2010, only nine out of 226 Federal parliamentarians responded to the survey.
They included two of the five Greens senators - Rachel Siewert and Bob Brown. The senators said the party would urge the government to undertake consultations with social justice and consumer groups to ensure internet services were accessible to disadvantaged people. The Greens also believed the government should work with retailers to deliver services for marginalised people who the market might otherwise ignore.
Five Labour federal Parliamentarians answered the survey question - Ursula Stephens and Mark Arbib from the Senate and Jim Turnour, Graham Perrett and Dick Adams from the lower house.
Senator Stephens, parliamentary secretary for social inclusion and the voluntary sector, gave a careful and detailed response, talking about the community organisations she has helped and supported. Senator Arbib thanked us for the question, but said it did not fall within his portfolio. As he is the minister for employment participation and the minister assisting the Prime Minister for government service delivery, we considered the Senator had a limited understanding of his role.
The Labor Party sent a separate response, presumably on behalf of the party. It talked about Labor’s computers in schools program which it says will deliver a computer to every child in years nine to 11 by the end of 2011; the digital regions initiative, which has committed $60 million in digital healthcare, education and emergency services; and the broadband for seniors project which will deliver 2000 internet kiosks in community centres and seniors clubs.
The biggest single Labor initiative is the $43 million national broadband network, which will deliver faster internet access Australia-wide. But as far as Infoxchange understands, the policy does not specifically tackle the issue of making broadband available to disadvantaged people.
Only one Liberal responded to the survey - Andrew Laming from the House of Representatives - who asked that the Coalition policy be posted next to his name. The policy emphasises how competition in the communications sector has lowered telephone and internet costs. In a separate response, the Coalition described their plans to set up a network of optical fibre, satellite and wireless broadband by private tender. The Coalition also nominated their school's technology fund, which will provide grants for technology improvements, giving priority to disadvantaged schools.
Senator John Williams was the only National Party member to answer us. The Nationals communications policy emphasises the importance of providing internet access in remote areas, but does not say how this can be realised by private sector investment alone.
The Independent member for New England, Tony Windsor, gave a detailed answer about his support of local digital projects and organisations.
If we are to live in a civil and democratic society in the 21st Century government has a responsibility to ensure everyone who want to participate in the digital age are able to do so irrespective of ability, location or income.
Learn more about digital inclusion