Skip to main content

Access to the net; a basic right in the 21st century

Age Discrimination

Seniors and technology symposium: From wireless to Wi-Fi

Sydney Town Hall

I begin by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land on which we meet today and pay my respects to their elders past and present.

I thank the Chair of MACA Katherine Greiner and congratulate the NSW government for hosting this seniors week discussion. There are plenty of hot topics for seniors this week, but none is more crucial than the new technologies and how you can use them.

Let me tell you about a competition that happens annually in the UK.

It is held to identify an over 65 internet champion.

The purpose of the competition is to promote the benefits of the internet to more than 5 million over 65’s in the UK who are still not online.

In 2012, Brenda O’Mulloy won Age UK’s Internet Champion of the Year. She said this about being connected:

My son bought me a computer when I was 75. He connected me to the internet and changed my life! I had been feeling very cut off after moving away from my friends and family – my family live 200 miles away – and the passing of my husband.


The computer was a real lifeline. It enabled me to stay connected and later gave me more. First I learned how to send emails and gradually moved on to other things like Facebook, Skype and instant messaging... I shop online, book flights and theatre weekends and play games...

When I am tired or when the weather is bleak, I don’t struggle against the elements in order to pick up the newspaper from my local newsagent. Instead I can stay at home in the warm and read the Daily Mail online, do a crossword or two, search recipes and shop for the ingredients using my computer. I can say with absolute certainty, eight years on, that the internet has had such a positive impact on my life...

If we were to have here in Australia an Australian Senior internet champion of the year, I expect he or she would tell a similar story to Brenda.

But, if he or she were one of our many seniors living in regional or remote areas, for example western NSW, I expect they would be even more enthusiastic about how the net breaks down the disadvantages of distance, or, as our great historian Geoffrey Blainey called it, the tyranny of distance.

Seeing real computer use visionaries like Nan Bosler here today, perhaps we can look forward to an Australian competition? I hope so as I have heard and gathered plenty of stories of how locals even in their 90’s are discovering the joys of the net.

The ability to access, receive and impart information is a human right.

Article 19 of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948 states that everyone has the right to ‘seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media regardless of frontiers’.[1]

Subsequent international meetings have identified the net and social media as part of what is intended in that important article 19.

If we are not online we are missing out, not just on the pleasures of getting emailed photos of our grandchildren ,or the convenience of online grocery shopping, but information essential to our health and quality of life.

The Australian Government has started building the National Broadband Network (NBN). One of the government’s goals is to provide ‘improved health and aged care’.[2]

Many of the new aged care services (being legislated this week) will be delivered in the home, because that is where people prefer to stay, and , often, for their entire life.

Aged care at home can work well but will deliver best in a world where older people and their carers are online and confident in getting and using medical advice online.

Visiting your doctor or district nurse on Skype? It sounds visionary. It is a vision that can become a reality, if computer access is available to everyone.

Where are we now, this seniors week in 2013?

Unfortunately, many older Australians do not yet have the skills, resources and confidence required for this reality.

While it is true that the proportion of people aged over 60 who are online has almost doubled in recent years, less than half of over 60s are online today.

And we are talking about large numbers of people – close to two million Australians.

Change is on the way. The greatest growth in internet usage in any age group is in the 55–64 year age group, up from 63% in 2008–09 to 71% in 2010–11.[3]

So we can expect that in years to come there will be extensive internet knowledge and access, but right now and there isn’t and we can’t leave this generation of older people behind.

Things are happening.

\he Australian Government, the NSW and other state governments, and associations such as Computer Clubs Australia are taking action and assisting in the development of older people’s computer skills.

The national government’s Broadband for Seniors Initiative provides funding for 2,000 free Internet kiosks in community centres, retirement villages and seniors clubs across Australia.[4]

The NSW Tech Savvy Seniors program is assisting older people to use computers, tablets and smart phones.

In this state the partnership with Telstra funds a range of Community Colleges and Libraries to provide Tech Savvy Senior training.

In 2012 I wrote to all members of the Australian Parliament to find out what was happening in their electorates. While the response was not overwhelming, MPs informed me that many schools are assisting at the Broadband for Seniors kiosks.

Senior students can provide good tutoring for older people, and can supplement the benefits of peer-to-peer tutoring. Research indicates that older learners may prefer to be tutored by people of a similar age.

Broadband for Seniors is delivered in partnership with the Australian Seniors Computer Clubs Association, Adult Learning Australia and the University of the Third Age Online, all experts in adult learning and all offering the effective peer to peer experience.

Such initiatives by government and Telstra are moving things in the right direction.

In conclusion I would point out that if there is one thing that we can learn from the research, it is that we need to publicise these initiatives to a wider audience. A National Seniors Australia survey into Internet usage found that only 17 per cent of respondents were aware of Internet kiosks.[5]

This will be a challenge for all of us. Forums like today’s are an excellent communication medium.

Again I congratulate the NSW government and Maca and look forward to working with all of you to make fair access to the net a reality for all.


[1]The Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948, art 19. At (viewed 4 January 2012).
[2] The Australian Government, The National Digital Economy Strategy, 2011. At (viewed 4 January 2012).
[3] ABS, 1301.0 - Year Book Australia, 2012. At
(viewed 7 March 2013).
[4] Minister for Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, Broadband for Seniors, Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs website. At (viewed 5 January 2012).
[5] National Seniors Australia, Older Australians and the Internet: Bridging the Digital Divide, September 2011, p.41. At
(viewed 31 October 2012).


The Hon Susan Ryan AO, Age Discrimination Commissioner