“Luke” has a disability and has spent the last 15 years managing on a very low income. He rents a small one-bedroom flat which uses up a lot of his resources, but he seems to manage with a little help from his family from time to time.

The one thing “Luke” does have is his smart phone. It might be just a recent hand-me-down but he uses it to keep track of when his rent and other bills are due and when he needs to check in with Centrelink. He gets notified when there is some work available from his employer and can check his bank account on pay day and attend to the bills. He even occasionally purchases good value gifts over the internet for family members, particularly for his new niece’s birthday.

“Luke” likes to be organised and says that having his smart phone and being connected to the internet is the difference between just surviving and having the opportunity to stay on top of things, gain some extra income and even contribute a little happiness to others: “It starts my day by waking me with my favourite song and ends my day reading my latest ebook.”

Digital inclusion is important for many people in many different circumstances. While people such as “Luke” are able to benefit from new digital technologies we know that in Australia over one million people with a reported disability are not yet connected. While the internet has transformed almost every aspect of our lives there are around four million Australians who are still not online and for whom the education, health, social and financial benefits of being connected remain out of reach. Digital inclusion is now recognised as one of the key social justice challenges facing policy makers and communities worldwide.

Digital inclusion is a complex and multi-dimensional issue involving technological, social and economic factors. While there are some statistics that paint a partial picture, there is currently no single comprehensive measure for Australia. While over time more Australians have become connected, and the digital divide has narrowed, the costs of not being connected have also increased dramatically. For many people who are not connected the divide has deepened.

So today, Telstra, in partnership with the Swinburne Institute for Social Research and the Centre for Social Impact, has launched a new three-year project to bring a clearer focus to the issue of digital inclusion in Australia. The Australian Digital Inclusion Index will enable us to baseline the extent of digital inclusion in Australia and assess progress over time. It will help focus policy-makers, businesses and community organisations on the issue of digital inclusion and inform the development of more effective policies, products and programs to improve digital inclusion and ensure no one misses out.

Speaking at the launch, Telstra Group Managing Director Consumer and Products, Karsten Wildberger, said: “At Telstra, we feel a strong sense of purpose that we are here to create a brilliant connected future for everyone. And by everyone, we mean everyone. We are passionate about the role technology can play to empower people to connect.”

“The Index will help us do that by bringing existing data together with new insights, to give us a much richer understanding of how Australia is doing on this important social and economic measure. We also hope it will help generate a national conversation about digital inclusion within community, academic, business and government groups. This is a critical conversation to have if we are to realise the important benefits digital services can bring to the way we manage our health care, support people with disabilities, care for older Australians, and access government information and services, education and employment. We know we are not alone in calling for this conversation,” said Karsten.

To that end, we invite you to join the conversation about digital inclusion in Australia. You can do this by reading the Discussion Paper that was launched today and provide feedback by way of a submission or comment. To do this, go to digitalinclusionindex.org.au where you can register your ongoing interest in the new Australian Digital Inclusion Index.