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Leveraging digital development in regional and rural Queensland: Policy Discussion Paper
Authors: Amber Marshall, Hurriyet Babacan & Allan Dale
Digital connectivity and capability are essential for regional economic development in the 21st century. Key sectors such as agriculture, resources, energy, tourism, and health are undergoing dramatic transformation globally, and there are enormous opportunities for Queensland and Australia to leverage telecommunications and the internet to increase productivity, diversify industries, and access global markets. Never has digital connectivity been so important in improving livability and maintaining people and workforces in regional and rural communities.
The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted and exacerbated some of the key challenges that regional and rural individuals, businesses, and communities face in accessing and participating in the digital economy. Universal access to fast, reliable, and affordable connections is still not a reality for many Queenslanders, and many people lack the advanced digital literacies and skills required to put digital technologies to work in life and business. Indeed, the digital divide between urban and rural areas is deepening, contributing to social and economic inequalities.
Rural and regional engagement with digital technology is mixed, with some people in key sectors, such as agriculture, struggling to keep up with fast-paced technological development. Local governments, particularly in remote areas, often lack the knowledge and capacity to drive digital development locally and to advocate for the technical solutions needed to better connect their communities. While the Commonwealth Government is working to deliver universal access, and the Queensland Government has several digital development policies and programs, regional and rural Queensland is lacking a cohesive vision and strategy to achieve digital transformation.
This discussion paper was developed through a literature review, consultations with key stakeholders in community and industry roles, a policy audit, and interviews with policy makers at three levels of government. The research findings conclude that there is an understanding for the need to support digital development, and a willingness amongst stakeholders to commit effort and resources. However, a more holistic and bold approach is required that prioritises and invests in both the hard infrastructure and the social infrastructure needed to achieve overall digital inclusion, social equality, and economic development.
The paper culminates in six recommendations for the Queensland Government to unify and accelerate its efforts to lead and support digital development in the regions:
- Devise a clear overarching Queensland digital development policy that aligns with regional development priorities and combines connectivity, service support, and digital literacy issues.
- Address the urban-rural digital divide with appropriate place-based analysis, planning, and solution building.
- Strengthen cross-jurisdictional collaboration for policy and program development and streamline state-regional engagement.
- Critically examine policy making across government in relation to post COVID-19 recovery for fair and equitable digital development.
- Develop and fund strategies and programs that support more greatly embracing digital technologies in key industries and which grow digital literacy.
- Fund targeted research to provide robust evidence for addressing industry and community needs, skills, and solutions for digital development.