Recommendations made to close Aussie First Nations digital divide

The First Nations Digital Inclusion Advisory Group has finalised its recommendations for closing the digital divide, with initial policy priorities focusing on digital mentoring in remote communities, improving access to connectivity, as well as trialling emerging technologies within Indigenous communities and improving the national collection of data.

The Group, which met earlier this week in Sydney, discussed outcomes from its initial engagement with the remote communities, which is intended to better align government, industry and the not-for-profit sector in their overriding objective to close the digital gap.

The proposals, based on these outcomes, will then form the foundation of the Advisory Group’s initial report to the Federal Government, with expectations for it to be finalised shortly.

The establishment of a First Nations Digital Inclusion Advisory Group is part of the Albanese Government’s substantial increase in investment in regional, rural and remote communications initiatives, with a $2.2 billion investment in regional communications over the next five years to increase connectivity and bridge the digital divide.

The Group was established by the Federal Government in January this year with the aim of working with First Nations people to provide advice to the Government and identify practical measures to support and accelerate progress towards Target 17 of the National Agreement on Closing the Gap for First Nations Australians.

The Group was funded in the October 2022-23 Federal Budget.

Target 17 commits to equal levels of digital inclusion for First Nations people by 2026 but, at the time of establishing the Group, progress was held back by the lack of “a truly collaborative and holistic approach”.

The Group, which aims to ensure a comprehensive focus across telecommunications, broadcasting and media, is expected to take into account all three aspects of digital inclusion: access, affordability and ability.

One of the key aims of the Group was also to complement broader efforts across government, industry and the not-for-profit sector to support digital inclusion, such as recognition of First Nations stories as a central pillar of the National Cultural Policy.

The Group is currently chaired by Dorothy West, who has extensive experience within the media and broadcasting sectors, and is pitched as a strong advocate of digital inclusion for First Nations people. Other Advisory Group members are:

  • Dr Lyndon Ormond-Parker, an expert in First Nations digital inclusion, cultural heritage and on-country learning;
  • Professor Bronwyn Carlson, an expert in First Nations social media use and online safety;
  • Ms Talei Elu, a community advocate for digital inclusion and member of the Queensland Government First Nations Consultative Committee;
  • Ms Naomi Moran, Chair of First Nations Media Australia (FNMA) and General Manager of Koori Mail Newspaper.

Commenting on the Group’s finalised recommendations, Minister for Communications, Michelle Rowland, said that the Albanese Government was keen to ensure “no group is left behind, including First Nations communities”.

“The Advisory Group has been working tirelessly under Dot West’s leadership since it was established at the start of this year,” she said.

“The Advisory Group has engaged in deep dialogue with dozens of communities, councils, and carriers, so they can provide the Government with a comprehensive understanding of the challenges and opportunities to close the digital inclusion gap.

“The work of the Advisory Group will support the Government’s goal to keep people connected, no matter who they are or where they live.”

Chair of the First Nations Digital Advisory Group, Dot West, stressed that the Group’s advice recognised that digital inclusion and a strong First Nations communications sector were key to achieving all the Closing the Gap targets.

“Following yesterday’s meeting, the Advisory Group will soon provide its report to Minister Rowland,” she added.

“It must be prioritised by government, working in partnership with First Nations communities and industry.”