Regional Australia
Regional | Telstra News |

Giving back to our regions

By Dr Ben Gursansky September 10, 2020

Telstra’s executive regularly travels to regional areas to meet with rural and regional customers and stakeholders in their communities to get a firsthand sense of the issues that matter most to them. While this hasn’t been physically possible during the COVID-19 pandemic, it hasn’t stopped us from keeping a strong focus on connecting with and supporting regional Australia.

We care deeply about keeping communities connected, which is why our purpose is to create a connected future where everyone can thrive. It is also why we’re working to help foster digital inclusion and provide support to community organisations. In more recent times that is especially so for those that have been impacted by the various crises experienced right across our country, from bushfires, drought, floods and now COVID-19.

We’ve identified a range of essential services – not-for-profit, and cause-related organisations – that are on the frontline of helping disadvantaged groups and impacted communities, and we’re working closely to help them with various philanthropic endeavours and initiatives. Many of these organisations we already partner with through our business, and this donation is an extension of that support to further enable their important work continuing through technology.

Melbourne Indigenous Transition School

This includes organisations like the Melbourne Indigenous Transition School (MITS), where COVID-19 affected students’ ability to stay connected to the school during the ongoing lockdown.

It was critical that students remained connected with the school and each other during the lockdown. MITS staff had to ensure they were able to continue their academic growth when away from Melbourne, which means a heavy reliance on technology. Technology that isn’t as accessible in remote Indigenous communities.

We helped to keep students connected to their schooling with a donation of mobile broadband devices delivered safely and contactlessly into Indigenous communities to ensure classes could continue remotely. Schoolwork is now completed at a distance via virtual software applications each day. The children are able to connect in real-time and discuss their work via online learning.

SHINE for KIDS

SHINE for KIDS is a national charity supporting children and their families with relatives in the criminal justice system. Being separated from a parent is a traumatic experience, and prisons can be tough on kids visiting their parents or relatives.

SHINE for KIDS is designed to help families maintain relationships while incarcerated, but the effects of COVID-19 mean that physical access to prisons has been limited in 2020.

Our donation has allowed children to stay connected to their families through the pandemic virtually. Parents can now connect with their children via iPads and read books to them to maintain the all-important relationship.

Youth Insearch

Youth Insearch works with at-risk youths aged 14-20 to help them onto the right path for success.

Since 1985, it has worked with youths in the community to reduce crime, violence, drug/alcohol abuse, self-harm and suicide in young people through workshops and community support. It also works to get youths helping youths so each member can positively affect others.

Similarly, COVID-19 meant that in-person workshops were not always possible, but with our donation we’re helping to facilitate these mentor meetings virtually.

We remain committed to supporting regional Australia. As restrictions lift, we are looking forward to getting back out across our beautiful and vast country to hear from our customers, and continue to provide assistance in the future to organisations that are helping to improve the lives for all Australians.

St Vincent de Paul - Vinnies
Telstra News |

How we helped Vinnies go carbon neutral

By Jules Scarlett July 29, 2020

We know that achieving real action on climate change is going to take all of us working together. Telstra, along with our challenger brand Belong, were the first Australian telcos to be certified carbon neutral earlier this year. Now we want to share what we learnt along the way.

To continue to tip the scales on climate action, we have teamed up with Deloitte to help the St Vincent de Paul Society, Victoria, on their journey to become certified carbon neutral.

Vinnies Victoria already works to build a circular economy, diverting more than 3600 tonnes of apparel and over 10,000 mattresses away from landfill last year.

It is now taking accountability for the greenhouse gas emissions associated with the operations of its stores and other charitable works. By investing in 10,000 tonnes of high-quality carbon offsets, Vinnies Victoria has this week been certified as carbon neutral by Climate Active.

On top of this, Vinnies have also committed to reducing its ongoing carbon footprint going forward.

These are great steps from such a well-respected organisation, and we congratulate Vinnies on their achievement.

We recognise that for organisations big and small going carbon neutral requires a detailed understanding of your operations, a strong knowledge of how to source ethical and high-quality offsets, and the proper governance and due diligence to ensure your commitment is leading to action. We were proud to offer Vinnies some guidance on what we learnt about this through our own certification process.

We’re also passionate about ensuring the long-term effectiveness of Australia’s carbon offset market. This is a huge opportunity for our country. By some estimates, the carbon offset market could drive $24 billion worth of investment and tens of thousands of jobs – particularly for regional and rural communities.[1]

We look forward to working with more organisations who are taking up the challenge of going carbon neutral.

Our commitment to climate has to go beyond just words to ensure that we’re engaged in real change. That’s why I’m pleased to say we are making progress on our commitments to use power sources from 100% renewable sources by 2025 and reduce our total emissions by 50% by 2030.

[1] http://carbonmarketinstitute.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/12/2020-Strategy-Paper_final.pdf

Albany Wind Farm near the town of Albany, Western Australia
Telstra News |

How we went carbon neutral

By Lyndall Stoyles July 9, 2020

Today we are proud to announce that we have been certified carbon neutral in our operations, receiving Climate Active’s largest certification in Australia. We’ve also become the second telecommunications business in Australia to do so behind our Belong brand, who gained certification in December last year.

This comes after we announced we were close to being certified last month, well ahead of our initial plan.

We’re continuing to work to reduce our overall emissions by 50% in 10 years and while we do that, we’re purchasing carbon neutral credits to counteract our environmental impact.

How did we do it?

As one of the largest consumers of power in the country, our certification has been achieved by purchasing 2.3 million carbon offset credits from projects that avoid, reduce or remove greenhouse gas emissions from being released into the atmosphere. We have also saved >13,000 MWh of energy through energy efficiency initiatives and a further >18,000MWh through decommissioning old equipment.

We have chosen carbon offset credits consistent with the Australian Government’s Climate Active program guidelines and further applied our own criteria to assess the social and environmental integrity of projects we chose to invest in. The credits purchased to meet our 2020 carbon neutral commitment have been from two project owners in Australia and three in India.

Our experience has been that it is extremely difficult to purchase carbon offsets from projects located in Australia. This is something that needs to be addressed because what it says is that there are not enough projects contributing to a reduction in greenhouse emissions.

Southern Aurukun Savanna Burning Project, QLD

APN Cape York
Image: APN Cape York

When we looked through the list of projects with Climate Active, the way the Savanna Burning Project blends traditional knowledge with technology to deliver a favourable environmental outcome made this project an obvious choice for us.

The Southern Aurukun Savanna Burning Project combines traditional knowledge – how to read country and knowing when to burn – with high-tech hardware including helicopters, fireballs and leaf blowers, to ensure traditional patchwork burning is restored in the right way and greenhouse gas emissions are reduced on Wik and Kugu country.

Greenhouse gases (GHG) emitted from savanna fires makeup 3% of Australia’s total emissions. Savanna burning projects undertaken by Traditional Owners and Aboriginal rangers reduce GHG emissions by undertaking cool, lower intensity fires in the early dry season when the vegetation still contains some moisture from the wet season. This reduces the GHG emitted from high intensity, unmanaged fire in the late dry season when the country is dry.

Community responsibility cannot work in isolation and we’re committed to also improving network availability in Australia’s Indigenous communities. We’ve delivered network upgrades on the Cape York Peninsula over the past three years, improved mobile coverage throughout the Torres Strait, and enhanced fibre connectivity to the communities of Hopevale and Aurukun, so that these communities can also access the health, education and society benefits that connectivity provides.

Telstra is also currently undertaking a capacity upgrade of the network backbone infrastructure in Cape York. Once complete, this will provide a significant amount of network capacity to support future projects across the Cape.

Yarra Yarra Biodiversity Project, WA

Following on from devastating bushfires in Australia in recent years, Telstra wanted to invest in a program that would help regenerate Australia’s ecosystem and improve biodiversity in the wake of loss.

The Yarra Yarra Biodiversity Corridor is a native reforestation project located in Southwest Australia – a global biodiversity hotspot. The project is established on degraded, semi-arid agricultural land that no longer supports viable farming practices. It removes carbon from the atmosphere and recreates a healthy and functioning landscape, restored after decades of habitat loss and soil degradation.

Planting native tree and shrub species indigenous to the region provides essential habitat and connectivity for birds and animals to transition through the landscape. The project also delivers measurable environmental, social, economic and heritage benefits to the community, including local Indigenous inclusion and employment and support of over 80 local businesses. The reforestation is protected for 100 years by Carbon Right and Carbon Covenants registered on land titles.

Various Solar and Wind Power Projects, India

Sun shining on solar panels

In India, where Telstra has significant operations, we have also purchased offsets from two solar power projects with a number of separate solar farms ranging in size, and three wind farms.

One of the solar power projects, ReNew Solar Power, has 26 separate solar farms with a total installed capacity of 927MW and exports to the Indian electricity grid in five states of India.

These investments help to decarbonise the India electricity grid and therefore align closely with Telstra’s renewable energy power purchase agreements in Australia through the Murra Warra wind farm and Emerald solar farm.

Cyber security control room team, development and operations in the Digital Economy of the future
Tech and Innovation | Telstra News |

Growing Australia’s digital economy out of COVID-19

By Andrew Penn June 26, 2020

When COVID-19 made many of us shut our doors, something happened. Digital doors opened in their place. We embraced technology like never before to keep businesses running, people working, kids learning and ourselves entertained.

We now have a growing digital economy – something I recently highlighted as a significant opportunity we as a nation should seize. With businesses reopening and social restrictions relaxing, (albeit with some constraints given the risk of increased infections), we should stop thinking about post-COVID-19 as only a “recovery”, but as an opportunity to grow the economy in the long term and put us in a better global position.

From the Industrial Revolution to the Great Depression, profound disruption has brought opportunities to be bold, to re-think conventional wisdom, and seek out new economic and social opportunities to help build a stronger future for everyone.

COVID-19 has proved change can be made and embraced quickly. During the height of the pandemic we saw a huge acceleration in digitisation – from telehealth to online learning, remote working and e-commerce – and the fast-tracking of numerous policy and regulatory changes to break down long-standing digital roadblocks.

As a nation we have achieved in a few months what might have taken us years to progress, and it is important that we now do not lose that momentum.

However, a single company, a single organisation or a single government cannot achieve this on its own. Through coalitions across the public and private sectors, we can affect change by removing barriers and incentivising growth so it is faster and more pervasive.

Over the past few weeks I have been Chairing the Business Council of Australia (BCA) Digital Economy and Telecommunications working group, and this is exactly our aim: to map out tangible ways we can put Australia at the forefront of a digital future – paperless, cashless and virtual – so we can come out of this stronger as a nation, not just bounce back.

This requires reform in five key areas: 

  1. Digital transition 
  2. Infrastructure 
  3. Regulation 
  4. Cyber Security 
  5. Skills  

1. Digital transition

Australia’s local businesses and enterprises pivoted quickly to ensure they could keep running – from working from home, to medical practitioners delivering telehealth consultations, we even saw interactive online cheese tasting sessions!

Technology was at the core of many businesses that adapted well. That said, a range of recent studies found that Australia’s small-to-medium enterprise sector could be substantially enhanced by a greater investment in digitising their internal processes and developing an effective web presence. Xero’s September 2019 Small Business insights indicate that businesses that boost technology spending the most grow revenue three times faster than those with the weakest technology spend.

Some options we are exploring include potential incentives and assistance to help the small business sector access the benefits of greater digitisation of business processes and an improved online presence.

2. Infrastructure

Connectivity is what powered many workers and businesses during the crisis, ensuring they could continue running.

For Australians to effectively participate in the digital economy, they need access to affordable, fast and reliable telecommunications services.

Telstra announced $500 million of capital expenditure planned for the second half of FY21 would be brought forward into the calendar year 2020, to increase capacity in our network, accelerate our roll-out of 5G, power more people with connectivity as well as provide a much needed economic boost.

With the completion of the nbn rollout nearing, there is now an opportunity for the Australian Government to develop its future vision for Australia’s digital economy and the telecommunications industry for the next decade – a vision that is technology agnostic and provides an environment that is pro-investment and pro-innovation.

3. Regulation

Governments and regulators play a significant role in enabling a digital nation, as well as ensuring as many Australians as possible can take advantage of the opportunity.

They took significant steps forward during the pandemic, including measures to help provide better access to telehealth, virtual AGMs, electronic execution of documents, and national electronic pharmacy scripts.

In the spirit of those last two initiatives, the BCA will be recommending a systematic review of regulation from federal to state to local, to eliminate barriers to a virtual and paperless society and a cashless economy.

4. Cyber Security

Last week was a timely reminder about the importance of strong cyber security, with the Prime Minister highlighting major cyber-attacks that are putting pressure on critical infrastructure and public services.

Cyber security is a large and growing area of risk for the security of the nation, and COVID-19 has increased that risk with so many people working and studying from home, away from traditional security measures.

Separately, I have been working with the Government chairing its industry advisory panel on the development of the 2020 Cyber Security Strategy. This will contain a number of significant initiatives to strengthen our collective cyber defences.

5. Skills

It was inspiring to see the flexible and innovative mindset many businesses adopted during the pandemic. This mindset needs to be deeply ingrained in Australian culture and to do this we need to invest in science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics (STEAM) skills.

We have partnered with five Australian universities to jointly develop critical skills and capabilities in areas such as network and software engineering, cyber security and data analytics. But we also need more people entering technology courses, and particularly more diverse talent, including female and Indigenous students.

We are also working on a suite of proposed improvements to the way industry and the education system collaborate, to ensure Australia’s school leavers have the foundation skills needed to succeed in the modern digital economy.

Australia’s opportunity to lead

The economic downturn caused by COVID-19 has left many businesses and families doing it tough and we need to do everything we can to build a stronger economy in the longer term in response.

Australia has been a world leader when it comes to protecting the nation’s health and economy during COVID-19, and now we can lead again. It will be important in so doing that this includes success for all of our communities.

I recently posed the question What type of historical moment will this turn out to be?. As life slowly begins to return to some type of normal, we are approaching a sliding doors moment.

We can go back to the way things were, or we can build on the innovative, can-do mindset that drove so many positive changes during the most significant disruption to daily life in a generation.

Telstra Foundation | Telstra News |

Silver linings: a step change for youth mental health

By Jackie Coates June 17, 2020

Silver linings can be found in unexpected places. While the current global health crisis has created additional uncertainty and genuine anxiety for many young people it has also been a catalyst for a step change to transform youth mental health support services.

There is no question that the pandemic has driven unprecedented demand for digital mental health services. However, it has also surfaced the limitations of our current mental health system – namely, its historical reliance on face-to-face care and the untapped opportunity to integrate digital technologies into clinical services, at scale.

With so many young people doing it tough and the wider acceptance that digital can play a role in the successful treatment of youth mental health issues, leading mental health innovators are seizing their opportunity to scale and enhance their tested, evidenced-based, digital solutions.

That’s why we’re providing a new $2M mental health relief package to longstanding Telstra Foundation partners ReachOut and Orygen Digital to fast track and enhance online mental health support for young people across Australia – during and beyond COVID-19.

Our partners are world leaders in the design and digital delivery of youth mental health services and care, going well beyond standard video conferencing to provide solutions that transform the way both clinical services and support resources tools are delivered in the short and long term.

The mental health relief package will be used to support ReachOut’s innovation program to provide personalised digital mental health support for young people. In the first five weeks following the introduction of social distancing measures, ReachOut saw an almost 50 per cent increase in visitors to their relevant support services online for COVID-related support.

The high demand continued along with the lockdown, with almost 10 people every minute accessing ReachOut’s services since mid-March. With this funding, ReachOut will be able to include targeted support to those at risk of suicide and a new best-practice digital peer support experience to meet young people’s needs and expectations.

Orygen Digital, meanwhile, is on a mission to offer young people outstanding therapeutic care and experiences to dramatically improve the accessibility and impact of mental health care through technology. It’s working with both young people and clinicians to make all mental health services in this country digitally-enhanced and enabled by 2024.

Funding will be allocated over a two-year period, with Orygen Digital and ReachOut receiving $1m and $800K respectively. The Telstra Foundation is also offering $200K worth of in-kind support and access to data scientists and agile coaches to help reduce admin burden and to upskill, coach and support all of its partners during this period of uncertainty and beyond.

It’s exciting to see how innovative non-profits are harnessing technology to pivot and future-proof their service models to help more young people. We’re keen to shape both a strategic and compassionate response to youth mental health service delivery – from therapy to prevention – and one that can leave a lasting legacy well beyond this current crisis.

If you or anyone you know needs help: