Jim Gall discuss’ how our country’s digital divide is leaving a generation behind.

The protracted 2016 election process is just one example of how things could be better if we had a progressive, bipartisan, inclusive digital plan that leaves no one behind, particularly the 36% of the population that live outside our capital cities.

The recent experience of yet another drawn-out, clunky and non-transparent voting process to decide Australia’s 45th parliament has reminded me just how antiquated this country is in respect to our collection and management of data.

If Australia were run like a commercial business with even a modicum of marketing expertise, the election process would be simple, fast, transparent and educative for both candidates and voters.

For many people in rural and remote areas, data restrictions are an even bigger problem.

 

The AEC could send out an Electronic Direct Mail (EDM) to the electorate via their Customer Relationship Management (CRM) database with a live link to the AEC website profiling candidates in every electorate. There would be how-to-vote information, candidate performance in previous roles with links to their LinkedIn profiles and even constituent reviews.

Imagine, no paper, no cardboard voting cubicles, no last minute influencing at the ballot box, no queues, less costs, no scrutineers, and no inane and often inaccurate commentary from politicians and political commentators who don’t yet know the outcome of the vote.

Votes would be cast, identities confirmed and by 6.01pm on election evening we would have the election decided, speeches made and thorough analysis using real-time data, cut thousands of ways to provide truly unambiguous commentary.

Now if you’re reading this from Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane or Byron, you would most likely say this should be easy to do. But if you live out the back of Bourke, Moree or even one and a half hours from Melbourne outside Euroa like I do, you quickly realise that there’s one crucial thing missing that makes this possible – internet connectivity and access to data.

The recent University of Canberra Regional Wellbeing, Resilience and Livability Report found that almost half of Australians living outside the major cities rated their internet as “very poor”.

That’s a little over 4 million people in Australia that rate their internet as “very poor”.  4 million people!

That’s growing families, businesses, school children, the aged, politicians, journalists and people from a cross-section of society that are being disadvantaged because of where they live.

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Associate Professor Jacki Schirmer believes poor internet coverage is preventing farmers from adopting the latest technology to improve their efficiencies.

She says that poor coverage also reduced the capacity to improve rural and remote Australians’ access to health services through e-health.

ABC’s Vote Compass, an educational tool developed by political scientists designed to help voters explore how they fit in Australia’s political landscape has revealed that almost 70 per cent of Australians want a faster National Broadband Network, even if that comes at a cost to the Government.

For many people in rural and remote areas, data restrictions are an even bigger problem.

While people in our capitals can access unlimited data for just $60 per month, some regional Australians are paying around $100 plus per month for just 15 gigabytes.

If this is an exciting time to be Australian, you have to be living in the city, because an agile, dynamic and innovative economy requires fast internet and digital services that don’t isolate and disadvantage people based on where they live.

Perhaps only if an election was held tomorrow online and a third of the population didn’t vote because of connectivity and data issues would our politicians suddenly realise we had a problem.

This article originally appeared in The Weekly Times Decision Ag magazine.

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