February 5, 2014  |  Statement on Reports

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.