The incredible adaptability of providers in the face of COVID-19 disruption ensured millions of Australians could still access vital services in 2020. And while “two years worth of digital transformation in two months”1 helped provide millions of Australians everyday assistance, it also highlighted the nation’s stark digital divide.
Medical appointments shifted to telehealth. Financial advice was dispensed via video chat. Students of all ages learned via online channels. And even as the country has started to recover from the pandemic, many services have remained online.
This has added to ongoing issues faced by the millions of Australians without reliable access to the internet and other digital technology.
Digital exclusion can lead to social exclusion, making it harder for Australians to participate in the educational, financial, healthcare and social programs they need to contribute to and take part in society. But strategic partnerships and collaborations between business and government organisations can help bridge this gap to ensure fewer Australians are left behind.
A more inclusive Australia to benefit all
Increased digital inclusion, and in turn increased social inclusion, can have major positive impacts for both individuals and Australia as a whole.
Digital skills are becoming a must-have for those in the workforce, with more than 90% of Australians requiring some level of digital skills at work by 2023.2 In addition to employability, benefits of digital inclusion include better access to education, health and wellness tools, financial services and government services.3
Deloitte’s August 2019 report The economic benefits of social inclusion, commissioned by SBS, found that more social inclusion can lead to better living standards by improving productivity and profitability in the workplace through enhanced creativity and innovation.4 The report also estimates the economic dividend from a more inclusive Australia to be $12.7 billion annually. Meanwhile, The Inclusive Australian Social Inclusion Index: 2019-2020 reports social exclusion costs the Australian economy $45 billion each year and affects 6.7 million people.5 It’s clear that a rising inclusivity tide can raise all of Australia.
The Australians being left behind
According to the Australian Digital Inclusion Index 2020, “Broadly it is Australians with low levels of income, education, employment and those living in some regional areas that are on the wrong side of the digital divide.”6
The Index says Australians aged 65 and older remain the country’s most digitally excluded age group. As important services for this demographic – including healthcare, financial advice, banking and social events – continue to take place online, these Australians are in danger of becoming even more isolated.6
According to the Settlement Council of Australia’s December 2020 report Supporting the digital inclusion of new migrants and refugees, the shift of services online during COVID-19 highlighted the digital exclusion of newly arrived migrants and refugees, too.
And a reliance on online learning during the pandemic also emphasised the inequality of digital access. 33% of Australia’s lowest income households don’t have internet access – far more than the 3% of high-income households.7 This lack of equitable access could have long-term impacts on education for some young Australians.
Partnerships between service providers, businesses and the government can help increase social inclusion by combining wide-reaching networks with pooled resources, capabilities and manpower.
Shepherding Australians toward a more inclusive financial future
Good Shepherd Australia New Zealand’s Financial Inclusion Action Plan (FIAP) is one example of how organisations can create more inclusive services through strategic partnerships.
A lack of access to financial resources can play a big role in social exclusion. More than 3.3 million people in Australia are financially excluded from safe, affordable and appropriate financial services, and more than 2.4 million are financially vulnerable.8
Good Shepherd Microfinance, on behalf of the Australian Government, partnered with the Centre for Social Impact and EY to develop a program to help increase financial inclusion and resilience in Australia by enabling participating member organisations to take positive action.9 The initial 30 members that joined the movement employed a combined 250,000+ people, serviced 80% of the Australian economy and included 7 of the ASX Top 50 Companies.9 As of July 2019, more than $62 million had been invested in programs to support 121,000 people in times of financial need.10
A personal touch at the Post Office
The Post Office itself can also help bolster inclusion amongst all Australians. With more than 2,500 Post Offices across regional and rural Australia, Australia Post is one of the most trusted service providers in regional and remote Australia, behind only the local doctor and police.11 That makes it well-served to help bridge the digital divide facing those in these under-supported regions.
“Our Post Office network plays an important role in expanding access to vital government and financial services in communities across Australia – particularly in regional and remote locations,” says Deanne Keetelaar, General Manager Payments and Financial Services at Australia Post. Socially isolated Australians visit the Post Office more frequently than others,4 and in times of disaster – such as the bushfires that spread across the South Coast of New South Wales in 2020 – the Post Office can act as a gathering place for those to charge their phone, talk to a friendly face, use the internet or get cash out. Even when digital access was only temporarily suspended due to the disaster, the Post Office served as a bridge to connectivity and inclusivity.
Bank@Post* provides in-person banking for those who cannot, or prefer to not, access digital banking services. In FY2019, Australia Post helped facilitate 26.8 million banking and bill pay transactions in regional, rural and remote Post Offices.4 This was especially important when around 400 bank branches temporarily closed and another 500 had reduced trading hours during the COVID-19 pandemic.11
Education for all Australians
Organisations also partner with Australia Post by using our national network to facilitate service delivery. Australia Post helped the Victoria’s Eastern Regional Library Corporation develop a new book delivery service during COVID-19 lockdown. And we’re also the main delivery provider in the Public Library Service in South Australia’s OneCard Network, which provides more access to literacy resources for all Australians by uniting more than 130 libraries across the state. Australia Post helps move approximately 4 million books, CDs, DVDs and magazines among libraries each year.12
Our three-year Indigenous Literacy Foundation partnership also aims to deliver nearly 300,000 culturally appropriate books to remote Indigenous communities across Australia to help close the reading gap. “Supporting Australians of all ages throughout the country with more access to these resources is essential,” Ashley Marshall, Australia Post General Manager – Business Government & International says. “Australia Post remains dedicated to continue doing this.”
The mailbox is always on
The mailbox is still an effective way to reach Australians – especially those who are less digitally connected.
Australia Post’s partnership with Red Cross Australia was vital to delivering relief information to drought-impacted farmers in Queensland when online channels weren’t effective. Targeted postcard drops helped alert those with lower digital literacy that aid was available, and led to an increase in applications for help.
“It was a really useful initiative – anecdotally, we’ve heard that some people in need would no have know about the program or realised they were eligible if they hadn’t received the postcard,” says Antoine Chandonnet, Australian Red Cross Community Recovery and Development Officer.
Finding the balance between the convenience and effectiveness of providing services digitally and making them accessible to all Australians will be important as we continue to rebuild after a difficult 2020. But strategic partnerships can help us enhance digital and social inclusion across the country – to the benefit of everybody.