Digital inclusion: the Australian Context in 2023
The current state of digital inclusion in Australia, and why it’s more important than ever
Welcome to the 2023 Australian Digital Inclusion Index
The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated digital transformation across many aspects of our lives, including work, education and healthcare. Now, more than ever, the ability to access, afford, and effectively use digital technologies is not a luxury – it is a requirement for full participation in contemporary social, economic and civic life.
The 2023 ADII continues our longstanding reporting of digital inclusion through the measures of Access, Affordability, and Digital Ability to help create a more equitable and inclusive digital society. Since the previous Index in 2021, research has offered increasing evidence that digital inequalities are both sequential and compounded, meaning the three dimensions of digital inclusion must be understood and addressed together.
Our 2023 reporting uses data from the Australian Internet Usage Survey conducted between June and December 2022. This round of data collection saw a larger sample than 2020 and 2021, with a total of 5,132 respondents. Additional samples for Northern Territory, Tasmania, Queensland and remote First Nations communities (through the Mapping the Digital Gap project) offer insight into the distribution of digital inclusion across these states, territories, and communities. This allows a greater understanding of the barriers to Access, Affordability, and Digital Ability and what needs to be done to better respond to persistent digital inequalities, particularly among remote First Nations communities.
What does digital inclusion look like across Australia in 2023?
The national Index score in 2023 is 73.2, up 2.1 points from the 2021 score of 71.1. This increase appears across all Australian states. The past year has seen a narrowing in differences between states and territories, with all states and territories recording overall scores between 69 and 78. The Northern Territory records the lowest score (69) and the Australian Capital Territory continues to record the highest (78). However, there remains significant geographic and demographic variation within states, territories and communities, and a continuing divide between capital cities and the rest of the country.
Nationally, there is a 7.5 point gap in digital inclusion between First Nations and non-First Nations people. In remote and very remote parts of Australia, this digital gap widens.
The metro-regional gap has narrowed to 5.0 in 2023 (from 5.5 in 2021) with metropolitan areas recording an average Index score of 74.8, compared to 69.8 in regional areas.
Housing tenure and composition continues to influence digital inclusion. While private renters have the highest average Index score of all housing tenure types, this may be because young adults are more likely than older adults to rent, and Digital Ability and Access scores correlate strongly with age, with young Australians generally receiving higher scores. People living in public housing recorded an Index score 11.7 points lower than the national average, with digital inclusion scores among this group growing slower than the rest of the population.
The number of highly excluded Australians has declined, but remains substantial
The number of highly excluded Australians (those with an Index score of 45 or below) has decreased from 10.6% in 2021 to 9.4% in 2023. The number of excluded Australians (those with an Index score above 45 and below 61) also decreased from 16.6% in 2021 to 14.2% in 2023.
Taken together, the number of excluded and highly excluded Australians in 2023 is substantial, totalling nearly a quarter (23.6%) of the national population. This significant segment of the population lacks the required resources to participate fully in economic, social, and civic life, presenting and compounding barriers to education, work, and vital services.
Highly excluded Australians are more likely to have a disability (24.5% highly excluded), live in public housing (28.2% highly excluded), have not completed secondary school (32.5% highly excluded), or be over 75 years of age (42.3% highly excluded). The majority of those who did not complete secondary school and/or are over 75 years of age are digitally excluded, with over half experiencing exclusion to high exclusion.
Digital exclusion is compounded by disparities in Digital Ability
The ability to access, afford, and effectively use digital services is not a luxury – it is a requirement for full participation in contemporary social, economic, and civic life. In this context of ‘compulsory computing’, digital inclusion is more important than ever.
Digital inclusion is strongly related to other markers of social disadvantage. This gap between digitally included and digitally excluded Australians is clearly seen in terms of Digital Ability. There are large gaps in Digital Ability scores between employed and unemployed Australians, people with a bachelor degree and those who did not complete high school, younger and older Australians, and those on the lowest and highest incomes.
The gap in Ability is also illustrated by differences in how different social groups use the internet, with a greater range of economic, administrative, social, and cultural activities undertaken by younger people and those with higher levels of income and educational attainment. Given the need to adapt a range of skills and literacies to a changing set of technologies and applications, limited skills and literacies may compound inequalities for groups already experiencing disadvantage over the long-term. Digital Ability is a moving target and skills must keep pace with rapidly evolving technologies and their applications, meaning gains in previous years cannot be taken-for-granted.
Given the complex and evolving nature of digital inclusion in Australia, ensuring that everyone can make full use of digital technologies and the benefits they bring, while avoiding their potential negative consequences, will remain an ongoing task.
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