Australia.gov.au: Development, Access, and Use of E-Government

Australia.gov.au: Development, Access, and Use of E-Government

Scott Baum (Griffith University, Australia)
Copyright: © 2014 |Pages: 16
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-6106-6.ch011

Abstract

Australia.gov.au is the Australian Federal Government's online portal for information exchange, sharing and interaction between those who govern and the governed. Over the past decade, the Australian government has actively developed and re-developed its online presence. International comparisons have consistently rated Australia as one of the most advanced e-government nations. However, despite significant progress towards full e-government maturity, some issues of full public participation remain. It is these issues that this chapter discusses. In particular, it considers the ways in which a digital divide within the Australian context model has emerged and what it means for the issue of social inclusion.
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Introduction

E-government-once a bold experiment and now an important tool for public sector transformation-has progressed to the point where it is now a force for effective governance and citizen participation… (United Nations 2010, p. iii).

As the above quote alludes to, the adoption of e-government practices in countries around the word has resulted in a revolution in the ways that the business of government is carried out. While prior to the widespread up-take of information and communications technologies the business of government was largely about electing officials and leaving it to them to do what is best for the country, state or region until the next election, the contemporary political landscape in many jurisdictions is now a two-way street characterized by broader communication and consultation.

A myriad of terms are synonymous with e-government including e-democracy, e-participation, digital government and e-governance. The term e-government is usually referred to as ‘encompassing all government roles and activities shaped by information and communications (ICTs)’ (Brown 2005). The most common type of E-government model focuses on providing easy access to citizen centered services and generating efficiencies in government administration. However, it is widely acknowledged that a mature and robust E-government is not simply placing the business of government in a digital format. It encompasses more than this. It is about ‘government harnessing IT to redefine its social technologies in order to remain relevant in a more participative, more interactive and more informational era’ (Allen et al. 2001, 94). The goals of a successful e-government process therefore not only relate to information provision and exchange, but also encompass encouraging strong and robust political debate, enhancing civil society and strengthening relations between citizens and those who government.

Commensurate with the growing e-government presence across many countries, there has been growing academic debate and research which has focused on a range of issues including those associated with evaluating the success of programs. While those on the supply side have focused on issues of the supposed cost savings, increased efficiency and improved public face of government the focus of those dealing with the emergence of E-government from the consumer’s point of view have tended to focus on the impacts across a range of social areas (Abbott 2001, Silcock 2001, Bains, 2002, Van Der Meer and Van Winden 2003, Jho 2005).

From a social inclusion viewpoint, it is questions of accessibility that are of most importance. Accessibility issues relate not only to the degree to which the required hardware is available across society, but also the extent to which potential users have the capability to access and understand online content and services. This relates to the widely discussed digital divide and has serious implications if only certain groups in society are able to access online services and information (Mossberger et al. 2003). Interest in the digital divide grew in prominence during the mid-1990s and today it remains an important component of public policy debate and encompasses a range of social, economic and political factors (Helbig et al. 2009, Warschauer 2003). Often discussion about the digital divide concentrates on the interaction between individuals, technology and society and tends to present on a technological determinist argument. From this point of view the argument is that once on-line there is no gap and that everyone can utilize the Internet and benefit from the information society. In terms of broad social inclusion goals it is a broader multi-dimensional view of the digital divide that is needed. This broader focus looks at not only the technological questions but also questions the extent to which everyone can utilize e-government content once on-line (Helbig, et al. 2009).

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