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Tuesday, 16 September 2003
Page: 20221

Mr SIDEBOTTOM (9:09 PM) —In Tassie, we have 64 excellent community resources called online access centres. Twenty of them are within my north-west coast region. They started up in 1998 with, I must say, support from the federal government. I acknowledge that support; it was an excellent investment in communities. In fact, the very first online centre was in the magnificent township of Devonport, in my electorate. That is the port where the magnificent Spirit of Tasmania shipscome in. We are looking forward to a third one, bringing all those good folk from Sydney, including the member for Macquarie and his family, who will make their way down the coast into Devonport and enjoy our hospitality.

The original mission of the online access centres was to accelerate the uptake of information technology in rural and regional Tasmania, and they have done that with gusto. Indeed, the increased importance of the centres is now not only in the provision of equitable access to information technology but in the provision of adult and community education and lifelong learning. They have been a wonderful investment. Indeed, after five years there have been something like 52,000 registered users—that is, something like 13 per cent of the population aged over 18 years—with 19,000 registered users on the west/north-west coast using the access centres.

Thirteen million dollars from the Commonwealth and state governments has leveraged a direct return to Tassie and its economy exceeding $26.2 million. By any measure, the online access centres have been a wonderful success. They do this by locally sourcing goods and services, through employment related to them and in terms of volunteer hours, skills training and access to employment opportunities for those people that have used them. Where you have got an engaged community there are indirect savings, of course, in justice, health and social service budgets.

The total government and community investment in the Tasmanian community online centres over five years exceeds $23 million in financial and in-kind support. These are community based facilities which have at least two multimedia computers—although most have many more than this now—a printer and a scanner and which offer access to the Internet for registered users in a very flexible, supportive and non-threatening environment. There is a strong focus on equitable access, particularly for members of the community, and certainly for those potentially disadvantaged by what I suppose is termed in the trade of information technology as the digital divide. There is one-on-one assistance provided by a part-time paid coordinator in these centres, and of course one of the great assets of these online centres is the tremendous number of trained volunteers who give of their time. I have been proud to go to the presentation of certificates of service and thanks to people who have put literally hundreds and hundreds of hours into supporting their community members. It is just wonderful.

Some offer ICT related services such as desktop publishing, community newspapers, secretarial services and web development and hosting. Indeed, 50 online access centres statewide are colocated with a Department of Education school or library, and one is colocated with a Service Tasmania shop. There are nearly 1,200 volunteers involved, with something like 235,000 hours of volunteering—or, indeed, 71,000 hours in the last 12 months. They are consistently located in communities with higher unemployment levels, lower levels of post-school education and lower median household incomes than the state averages. Home ownership of computers and use of the Internet in these communities are below average. The centres provide an excellent service based on providing equity of access to information technology and trying to break down the digital divide. I thank everybody involved in these centres. I look forward to their future and, of course, thank the Commonwealth and state governments for their wonderful investment in our wonderful communities.