Rural and Regional Committee: opportunities for people to use telecommuting and e-business to work remotely in rural and regional Victoria
Mr HOWARD (Ballarat East)— Let me take this opportunity to congratulate you, Speaker, on your new position. In regard to committee reports, as deputy chair of the Rural and Regional Committee, I am pleased, along with the chair, the member for Rodney, who has just spoken, to speak on the report released today on opportunities for people to use telecommuting and e-business to work remotely in rural and regional Victoria — a mouthful of a title but an important issue. The committee travelled extensively around Victoria to hear the views of rural and regional Victorians on this important issue.
As all members in the chamber would know, ICT has significantly changed our lives over the last 10, 15 or 20 years.
It has changed the way we communicate with others, the way we undertake our work and the way business is undertaken across our community. ICT is prominent because of the huge opportunities it provides for the people who have the skills to use it and have access to the technology it requires — that is, the software as well as the wiring or signalling that makes the technology available in the communities where we live. For rural and regional Victoria, where distance from Melbourne and other major business centres can present challenges and add to the cost of doing business, tapping into the information superhighway that ICT can provide can overcome many aspects of the cost of physical travel and other challenges of physical distance, not just to Melbourne but to the world.
What we found as a committee was that many people living in the communities we visited clearly understood the opportunities offered by the information technology age, and many of them are taking up those opportunities to live in their rural communities — beautiful communities to which they have an attachment — by undertaking their work using the web. Journalists, website designers, photographers, computer analysts, those who work in the tourism industry and others who work in a broad range of other jobs for either government or non-government employers reported that these opportunities have led to life changes for them. We heard how these opportunities were beneficial both economically to their communities and socially to the residents who could then stay in their communities and enjoy contributing to and building their local communities. We also heard that many opportunities were provided to further advance business across rural and regional Victoria.
However, a major issue raised by contributors was the need to ensure that an appropriate level of connectivity is provided across rural and regional Victoria and that rural and regional Victoria should not be left behind in the rollout of broadband access via the national broadband network rollout or via private providers or in terms of mobile access. Now more than ever for those who rely on mobile phone access to speak to people or who use iPads or other new forms of technology, access to proper, quality broadband and mobile technology is vital.
We also learnt that there are great opportunities for rural and regional Victorians to telecommute if their employers are happy to extend those opportunities to them. In communities like mine in the Ballarat region numerous workers commute daily, adding to peak-hour road and public transport congestion, as the committee chair talked about, and adding to their daily travel time. Then they spend their money in Melbourne when they get here, whereas the alternative is for them to stay and have that extra time in their local communities.
There are clearly many opportunities for the state government to show leadership, as our recommendations have said, in promoting telecommuting both within various aspects of government administration and more broadly.
There are many things in this report. I thank all those involved in putting it together.