Topics: Be Connected program to boost digital skills for older Australians, Israel Gaza conflict, President Biden’s address
ALICIA PAYNE, MEMBER FOR CANBERRA: Good afternoon everyone. I'm Alicia Payne, the member for Canberra, and it's my great pleasure to have Minister for Social Services Amanda Rishworth here with us today at the Canberra Seniors Centre to make a really important announcement about the Be Connected program which is about digital literacy and safety for older Australians. It's critically important that people have the skills they need to remain connected and safe online. And we've just joined an excellent class here at the centre which was for people learning about Google Lens and I've got to say I learned what that was for the first time too, with some great applications. This is a fantastic Community Hub here in Canberra, established in 1927. It has around 300 members and up to 800 people that use the centre for all kinds of classes. So it was great to see the community coming together for this and especially wonderful to welcome the Minister here this morning. I'm also joined by Jess Wilson, the CEO of the Good Things Foundation and Sharon Sams, a digital mentor who will be speaking with us today.
AMANDA RISHWORTH, MINISTER FOR SOCIAL SERVICES: Thank you very much Alicia and thank you for welcoming us to this wonderful Community Hub. Of course, the Federal Government has partnered with the Good Things Foundation to ensure that older Australians can get online and there's no better time to understand just how important that is than in Get Online Week. Of course, part of the Be Connected program has been about supporting older Australians get online, but doing it safely. And we know in a time where technology is rapidly increasing, more services and supports are actually being provided online. If we don't actually support those that are digitally excluded to be part of this, then we know that they will miss out and the statistics speak for themselves. One in four Australians can be classified as digitally excluded, that includes people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds. It includes Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, but it also includes older Australians and that's why the Be Connected program has been so important. The Government has partnered with the Good Things Foundation, which has supported over 3800 community centres libraries, neighbourhood centres to offer this support to older Australians. And this has been a very successful program. However, the issue has come for the Be Connected Program that the money was due to run out on the 30th of June next year. So our Government has taken the very important step to put in place another four years of funding. That means that the Be Connected program will run until June 2028. Ensuring the stability of funding and importantly, ensuring that this program can continue to service older Australians and make sure that they are able to keep up with the rapidly increasing technology. It's estimated that with this extension of funding 300,000 extra older Australians will be able to benefit from this, so that’s 300,000 older Australians that will be able to benefit from the extension of funding for Be Connected. This is a really important program and it is one that we're very proud of. One of the other announcements that we are making today is that there will be an opportunity under this program for secondary students to actually become mentors and to support older Australians to get online safely. This is a really important initiative because not only does that benefit the older Australians through their digital inclusion, but it supports younger Australians to develop their mentoring, their leadership skills and their confidence. So this is a win-win and a really important development. I will now pass over to Jess from the Good Things Foundation to talk a little bit about our partnership and how we work together.
JESS WILSON, CEO GOOD THINGS FOUNDATION: Thank you Minister. We're absolutely thrilled that the Be Connected program is going to continue its funding for the next four years because it has been an incredibly successful partnership between the Department of Social Services, the e-Safety Commissioner and Good Things Foundation and the 3800 community partners that are all over the country that have been delivering the program in that time. We have really seen a significant increase in people's digital skills, their online safety, their competence to get online, but also their social connection. You know their ability to connect with others in their community but also stay in contact with family and friends around. And all of that comes down to the fantastic support that we have in community organisations, like the Canberra Seniors Centre, that are that are all over the country. And it comes down to those digital mentors, the people in the community who give up their time to support people to learn those digital skills. And so it's brilliant to have Sharon here today to tell you a bit more about what it's like to be a digital mentor and the kinds of things that people want to learn about because it continues to change all the time.
SHARON SAMS, DIGITAL MENTOR: At the Canberra Seniors Centre we gather once a week for our digital program and I'm a mentor. We're able to offer individual help to our members and they've got a variety of needs. They want to be able to stay in touch with their family and their friends. So we talk to them about social media, about maintaining good connections. They want to be able to do simple things like attaching photos to emails, sorting photos, they just want to be more competent and feel that they are still able to fully participate in the community. And so it's a great service and it's a lovely way to engage across the community and across all ages and cultural barriers and other things.
JOURNALIST: Sharon, while you're still there can I just ask you what do you find are the major struggles that older people have with technology and can you give us some examples of what they come here for?
SHARON SAMS: So often they feel disconnected and in fact, I suspect often they feel more disconnected than they actually are. They feel like they've been left behind and they bring their phones, they bring their tablets and they are nervous to use them and what they really need is confidence. And for someone just say it's okay to press buttons – nothing bad is going to happen and we can build their confidence. They do come with specific questions. They want to know how to do banking, they want to know how to organise their photos, they want to know how to put their emails into files, things like that. But it's as much a matter of engaging with them and giving them a sense of confidence and competence.
JOURNALIST: Do you think that there's been enough of a focus, because obviously technology has moved so fast, on bringing older Australians along with those changes?
SHARON SAMS: I think there's always more that we can do and it's more and more difficult. Often they need to use digital skills to perform everyday tasks, making doctor's appointments, paying bills. Sometimes you can't do those things anymore without the digital knowledge. So it's easy for them to become disconnected.
JOURNALIST: Minister, can I ask you how much more vulnerable are older Australians to online scams and how does the Be Connected program help to give them the tools they need to better protect themselves?
AMANDA RISHWORTH: There's two really dual purposes of the Be Connected program. The first is of course increasing older Australians digital literacy and getting them online and getting them to be able to use those common digital tools like online banking. But of course the other side of it is around online scams and we know the sophistication is increasing when it comes to online scams. Indeed, there's been times where I've been almost caught with the text message that's come through the email – they look very real. So if you don't have the confidence, or you're not very in tune with some of these things you can be more at risk to those online scams and that's where the Be Connected program is so important. In addition to ensuring the digital literacy and capability is there, there's also a focus on how to do it safely. And so this program is really important along with a lot of the work that the eSafety Commissioner is doing to ensure that safety is paramount. Our Government has been working very hard when it comes to online scams, work that has been led by the Assistant Treasurer, but this Be Connected program provides practical support on how to stay safe, what to look out for and how not to get caught.
JOURNALIST: Jess, is that something you found as well – that older people don't really know what to look for in terms of what a scam is and that they can be caught out?
JESS WILSON: Yeah, absolutely and what we what we know is that it's about having the right kind of people that you feel you trust, to be able to ask those questions. So often people, they get the text message and they're just not sure what to do with it. But if they have that local support, somewhere that they already go that they can ask someone – is this something that I should be worried about? So that's the brilliant part about Be Connected is that it's about local support in places where people already access that. And we also know that actually sometimes the scams are something that means that people are a bit fearful of going online. So it's one of the reasons why people say – oh, I'm not sure I want to because I might get scammed. And so it's really important that every time we're talking about online skills, learning something new, we're always talking about how to stay safe. So that's what our community partners are doing all the time is just how to stay safe online, but also to have fun and to make sure that you're not missing out.
JOURNALIST: Minister, can I get you on another topic, please? Just your reaction to Joe Biden's speech this morning specifically about the risk of conflict spreading to other parts of the world, namely broadly in the Middle East and in the Indo-Pacific.
AMANDA RISHWORTH: Of course, we are watching the aftermath of the indiscriminate attacks by Hamas on Israel and of course, we are watching very closely – we are concerned about civilian life particularly in the region. We have been very clear that civilian life, innocent lives, should be at the forefront of the considerations when it comes to the conflict. Our security experts, our intelligence services, our Government will be monitoring these things very closely. Our focus has been on getting Australians out of the region. Overnight, we've had more Australians able to leave Israel. So this is a continuing focus of the Australian Government on Australians in the region. Thank you.