ADJOURNMENT;Digital Local Government Program – 09 Oct 2012

save time and money by dealing with local government digitally.

The Australian government’s $17.1 million Digital Local Government program provides funding to local governments in communities that are among the first to benefit from the National Broadband Network, or the NBN. The program encourages local government to develop online services that other local governments across Australia can adapt and use. Like the Digital Hubs program and the Digital Enterprise program, the Digital Local Government program is a key element of the National Digital Economy Strategy to realise the Australian government’s vision for Australia to become a leading digital economy by 2020. It is assisting to deliver significant improvements in the quality, availability and speed of local government services. It will provide significant benefits to the members of these communities by improving the ways that they interact with their local government.

Tasmanian communities are at the forefront of the Digital Local Government program, as they are with the NBN itself, with 11 Tasmanian local governments having been announced as either being eligible for funding or having received funding under the Digital Local Government program. These local councils cover all parts of Tasmania: Circular Head, Sorell, Dorset, Glamorgan Spring Bay, George Town, Break O’Day, Launceston, Clarence, Kingborough, Meander Valley and Hobart. The projects are diverse and interesting, and highlight how different local councils can find solutions to meet their own needs.

For example, the Circular Head Council has been provided with project funding of $375,000 to transform its building and development application process using a web based videoconferencing platform. This should allow people to retain the face-to-face service they traditionally receive from council while at the same time avoid the need to travel to Smithton, which to a lot of people in the area is a fair distance to travel, to discuss their building and development plans.

Similarly, both the Glamorgan Spring Bay Council and the George Town Council have also each received project funding of $375,000 to develop online planning and development application services. This should streamline the development process, making it easier and cheaper for members of these communities to undertake the business they need to undertake with their local council by late 2012. The Sorell Council has received project funding of $292,000 to develop an online emergency management system using videoconferencing technology. This project will allow better coordination in emergency management situations for the community and may lead to a reduction in the loss of property and may also save lives. This service begins in late 2012.

It is a project that we can see has the ability to improve emergency management coordination across Australia, improving the safety of Australians during emergency events.

The Dorset Council has received project funding of $225,000, and the Council for the Break O’Day $373,000, to develop online platforms to facilitate enhanced community engagement, including planning and development application services. This will allow members of these communities to better participate in local government from late 2012 or early 2013.

The department is currently working with Kingborough Council to develop a project business case to deliver enhanced online engagement with the community, including ways of delivering interactive online training in topics such as food handling. This project will provide a unique way for council to deliver training services, and it will allow training to be delivered more flexibly and to occur at a time that is mutually suitable for the employer, employee and the council. It will result in lower costs for businesses in training, and the flexibility provided will allow greater productivity, as time taken off for training will be less. The Launceston City Council and the Clarence City Council are also eligible to apply for Digital Local Government program funding of up to $375,000, and the department is currently working with them to develop project business cases.

Another component in the National Digital Economy Strategy is the Digital Hubs program. Digital Hubs offers services to assist local residents to better understand how they benefit from the NBN and to improve their digital literacy skills. The training provided includes basic computer operations; performing everyday online activities; online safety and security, which, of course, is very important; connectivity options to the internet; and benefits of the NBN to households. I have seen the Midway Point digital hub in action, when the Joint Select Committee on Cyber-Safety was invited to see its operations on 7 August.

The Midway Point digital hub, housed at the Pittwater community centre, provides a number of functions for the community of Sorell, Pittwater and Midway Point. Training services began in February 2012, and the digital hub has received $145,000 in funding under the Digital Hubs program. One of the services provided is a regular Tuesday afternoon computer class run by Mr Martin Holloway. Martin’s class allows members of these communities to learn introductory computer skills in a friendly environment, including using email, the internet, Google and desktop publishing. Learning is conducted in a very hands-on manner at a speed which suits the individual student. When the committee visited, one of the participants in the class was over 90 years of age and about to buy her first computer—which just shows that you are never too old to get online.

The Midway Point digital hub is allowing hundreds of people who would otherwise have not gone online to take their first steps into the online world. The government is supporting digital hubs in a number of other Tasmanian communities as well. I had the opportunity last Wednesday to visit the digital hub under construction at Kingston Beach, near my electorate office, with the Minister for Broadband, Communications, and the Digital Economy, Senator Stephen Conroy. Along with us came the Kingborough mayor, Dr Graham Bury.

The Kingborough council has signed a funding agreement to receive $338,000, with training services due to commence in late October or November 2012. The funding has already transformed the look of the back of the old Kingston Beach hall into a modern, flexible learning environment. High-speed wireless internet will be available throughout the hall, delivered to the hall via the NBN optic fibre that is installed throughout Kingston Beach. I look forward to visiting the facility again when classes begin in the next few weeks.

Since March 2012, members of the Scottsdale community have also benefited from a digital hub, with the Dorset Council receiving $345,000. The communities of George Town, Triabunna, St Helens and Smithton will soon also have the benefit of digital hubs, due to begin in October 2012, with the federal government providing funds of $394,000, $197,000 and $379,000 respectively.

Through the Digital Enterprise program, services are being offered to assist small-to-medium enterprises and not-for-profit organisations to better understand how to take advantage of the NBN to improve the efficiency and reach of their operations.

The training provided for SMEs includes improving their online presence and marketing, increasing their competitiveness and internal efficiencies, and expanding their national and international markets. Training provided to NFPs includes how to deliver their services online, undertaking online fundraising and awareness activities, and achieving administrative efficiencies using online tools. In Tasmania, the NFPs and SMEs in the communities of Smithton, Midway Point and Scottsdale have received training services from 3p Consulting that started in February 2012. Training for NFPs and SMEs in St Helens, Deloraine and George Town has just begun, commencing in August 2012.

A large number of organisations in these communities have received this training, in either a group setting or on a one-to-one basis. They are using the training to leverage the power of the NBN to promote their unique enterprises and the unique parts of Tasmania that they originate from. Minister Conroy and I had the pleasure of visiting a small business last week, Wafu Works, located next to the Kingston Beach Digital hub. It is just one of many businesses across Tasmania already enjoying the benefits of having reliable, fast internet. Training has also just started being provided in Triabunna, through the Orford Triabunna Chamber of Commerce, and in Launceston, South Hobart and Kingborough, through Community Potential Foundation Ltd.

The Gillard Labor government is acting to improve the way that local governments, individuals, and not-for-profits utilise the NBN. The Digital Local Government program is contributing to the Australian government’s vision that Australia will become a leading global digital economy by 2020. In particular, the program contributes to the digital economy goal that, by 2020, four out of five Australians will choose to engage with government through online services.

The programs being funded are diverse and allow individual councils to find unique solutions to the issues they face in their own local government areas. They also allow these solutions, once trialled, to be adopted and adapted by councils across the country. The Digital Local Government program, the Digital Hubs program, and the Digital Enterprises program are helping local councils, individuals, and small-to-medium enterprises to maximise the benefits of the very important NBN.