[LINK] WSIS STATEMENT FROM AUSTRALIAN CIVIL SOCIETY
geert at desk.nl
Tue Jan 6 12:45:39 EST 2004
STATEMENT FROM AUSTRALIAN CIVIL SOCIETY
Geneva Phase of the World Summit on the Information Society Geneva
Palexpo, 10-12 December 2003
General info: http://www.ccnr.net/wsis/welcome.htm
This document: http://www.ccnr.net/wsis/statement.htm
Civil society has enormous power and benefits. Effectively-used
information and communications technologies help civil society to develop
valuable current knowledge, consolidated networks, beneficial social
innovations, global progress, accumulation of past culture, a means for
coping with change, personal life-skills, local content, shared community
aspirations and values, and productive interactions with government and
business. This Statement describes how these can be achieved in Australia.
The key topics it covers are indigenous communities, spatial
isolation, democratic pluralism, inclusion and interoperability, access to
content and technology, effective use of technologies, volunteers, privacy,
knowledge sharing and intellectual property. At each topic, potential for
improvement is described.
The Roundtable for Australian Civil Society (RACS) was established by
the Centre for Community Networking Research (CCNR), Monash University and
Communities on the Internet (COIN), Central Queensland University as a
result of seed funding from the National Office of the Information Economy
(NOIE) in June 2003 with aim of coordinating a civil society input into the
World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) 2003.
RACS undertook a round of consultations with a number of Australian
peak bodies representing civil society families identified by WSIS. This
Statement represents the views of this initial engagement and acts as a
focal point to seek growing input from the Australian Civil Society, as a
base for future inputs to the WSIS processes. The Statement will form a part
of the official Australian documentation into WSIS 2003 and is being
presented to a number of forums during 2003.
The Statement clearly recognises Australia's ability to contribute to
policy development, research, praxis and service delivery, while addressing
issues of digital inclusion and effective use of ICT through a prism that
validates civil society in key decision-making.
It recognises the need for Australian governance processes to allocate
resource and policy prominence to the intersection between civil society
with digital inclusion and effective use of IT products and services. It
makes the clear point that this issue (authorized by the UN), is of
sufficient import for Australia's future to be considered in the same
significance as education, health, security, infrastructure, industry
development were to previous generations.
Ongoing dialogue with any interested person or group is encouraged. We
believe that this Statement will stimulate widespread debate about the use
of ICTs in Australia. Please make your suggestions known.
1. Civil society in Australia: an adaptation
The concept of "civil society" as a discrete non-government,
non-business sector with a particular set of interests and public voice is
one that has only emerged in recent times in Australia. Ordinarily,
governments at all levels are considered as fully representative of
citizens' interests, though there has been a long history of organisations
supporting citizens' activities independently of government. It should be
also noted that in Australia there is no recognised religious establishment
or state church, though many religious groups have a strong role in the
delivery of welfare and educational services. The place of institutions of
higher education within the civil society has hardly been explored, though
most of the members of this roundtable work within academia.
To find organised elements of civil society we have looked to: trade
unions, religious groups, foundations, community organizations, social
movements, non-government organizations and non-profits, volunteer
organisations, charities, cooperatives, professional associations,
educational institutions, clubs, public media, and others.
This Statement aspires to support an engaged and informed civil
society, which is aware of, and empowered by the multifarious capacities of
Information and Communications Technologies (ICTs). It is based on the view
that the use of ICTs should not drive the direction of civil society but
that, given the right conditions, ICTs can act as enablers, facilitating
self-organisation, digital inclusion, participatory decision-making, and a
more knowledgeable society.
2. How this statement was written
The Centre for Community Networking Research, Monash University, and
COIN Internet Academy, Central Queensland University, initiated a
consultative process in the second half of 2003 to develop this Australian
civil society statement for the World Summit on the Information Society
(WSIS). This was done through:
a.. Formation of a key working group of people - the Australian
Roundtable on Civil Society (RACS) in non-governmental organisations,
particularly universities, non-profits and indigenous organizations, with a
known interest in ICTs. Members of this group met in Canberra in May, 2003
and Melbourne in October 2003. The National Office for the Information
Economy has provided support for this process.
b.. Broader consultations and submissions by e-mail and in person,
including nurturing contacts at conferences, in Australia and overseas,
attendance at PrepComs for the WSIS, board meetings, and other events.
3. Indigenous Australians
Members of the working party recognise the potential benefits of ICTs
to indigenous people's development. The flexible nature of IT applications
and the ability to utilise audio-visual media means that IT can play a vital
role in the preservation and promotion of traditional culture. It can also
provide access to education, training, and employment for the large
proportion of indigenous Australians who live in very remote locations.
Australia's indigenous peoples are the original custodians of our
land, and their role in preserving heritage, current, and future culture and
memory is critical to the process of reconciliation between them and other
Australians. For many indigenous Australians, cultural and linguistic
differences, geographic distance, and social inequality are major
impediments to their participation with ICTs. These differences can only be
overcome through targeted initiatives and self-management that are not
reliant on market provision solely, but are supported by the state. However,
the importance of meaningful consultation, decision-making and
implementation of ICTs in the context of many other challenges facing
indigenous Australians cannot be underestimated or ignored.
For example: Cape York Digital Network and other regions of the
Outback Digital Network are projects are rolling out ICT centres in remote
indigenous communities in Northern Australia. CYDN is managed by Balkanu, a
non-profit indigenous economic development organisation. These centres
typically have 6 computers (3 PCs, 3 thin clients), a videoconference unit,
and a Cisco Aironet wireless omni-antenna. A local person is employed to
supervise the centre and to teach the public how to use various
applications. They are also working with the Women In Technology project in
two communities. For details visit www.cydn.com.au and www.odn.net.au
4. Digital Inclusion and Spatial Isolation
As with other countries in the Asia-Pacific region, we have been
strongly influenced by spatial isolation, and this continues to be the case.
Some of the nations which are the world's most disadvantaged, in terms of
ICTs and development, are in Australia's regional location. We recognise
that ICTs can contribute significantly to bridging geographic, cultural,
political, and other gaps, and advocate maximum use of ICTs for all forms of
development. ICTs can provide a unique virtual space, if equitably
organised, as a medium of communicative transactions.
Australia itself is a large island continent with a small population
concentrated in a few cities. Distance has historically affected the cost of
all forms of communication and social development within the country and
internationally, particularly for people living outside of the cities, and
this continues to be the case, despite the heightened capacity and speed of
As a consequence, a priority for us is equity in access to
a.. Subsidised or free access to telecommunications, including ICTs
for people in regional, and remote areas, apart from pure market
considerations. The importance of community service obligations to ensure
equity by service providers of telecommunications is paramount.
b.. The equitable development of broadband and other technologies.
Where these are not possible, every effort should be made to develop
inclusive interactive options, including more effective use of narrowband,
satellite, and wireless technologies.
c.. Strategies to ensure that there is effective use of ICTs, above
and beyond connectivity and access. The particular and local characteristics
and capacities of different communities of interest should be taken into
account, and supported in the development of the networked society projects
and programs, and they must be evaluated for social effectiveness at every
5. Democratic Plurality through ICTs
Members of the working party are strongly of the view that the future
of ICTs in this country, and regionally, is bound up with the cultural
pluralism that is expressed through a healthy democracy in a country of
great cultural diversity. ICTs offer an extraordinary and apparently
limitless capacity to foster communication between all people, no matter
what their language, location, or disability.
Specifically, as other civil society statements have made clear, and
as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 19, indicated long
ago, governments should:
a.. Ensure that market forces do not interfere with the open
communications process, and in fact, should support the development of free
or cheap access as widely as possible to the ICTs, particularly the
b.. Support the development of freely available open source
platforms and software which support a range of network protocols.
c.. Promote the right for all to be electronically enabled citizens
and have the right to free expression online.
d.. Support the rights of individuals and groups to protect
personally sensitive data and records from exploitation, and unwanted
intrusion must be carefully considered against the right to free access to
as much information as possible by all people.
e.. Through the use of multiple platforms, serve as many diverse
communities as possible, a "democratic commons," to be developed to enhance
the democratic political process, including opportunities for e-democracy
and e-government as a partnership between government and civil society.
f.. Ensure political and military security against terror, guided by
equal rights of free expression.
National governments should also ensure that the ICT industry itself
is a vehicle demonstrating not only good corporate governance, but also good
human governance, genuinely recognising basic human rights and the
International Labor Organisation (ILO) core conventions. Job security,
against the trend to convert permanent jobs to precarious jobs, part-time,
casual and contract positions, must be protected. The rights of workers in
society to freely join a union and to negotiate collective agreements,
particularly important in new growth areas such as the "call centre"
industry, where women are the dominant group, must also be protected, to
ensure equitable benefits. The ICT industry should be promoted as a model
employer industry in every aspect which shares the benefits of development.
6. Inclusion and interoperability
National governments, including the Australian government, should work
to ensure that ICTs promote social inclusion. In the short term, the
Internet may well replace other telephony, integrate radio and TV as well,
and become mobile, and we should be prepared for creative solutions to
emerging and future technologies. Given the tremendous technical innovations
and social changes which are almost inevitable consequences of such endemic
change, the challenge of full inclusion should be seen as a task to can
enhance all forms of development - whether community, business, political or
contributing to social capital.
Costs of access, technical skills, language, disability, geographic
location, and community capacity are a few of the factors which are
interested in community development rarely assisted by means of trickle-down
or market-force panaceas.
To this end, national governments should:
a.. Recognise and support programs which encourage compatibility and
promote effective use of current, emerging and future ICTs amongst different
communities of interest.
b.. Make freely available technical protocols, standards and
platforms, including open source, to support the interoperable communication
of information in the world's languages by speech, text and other media.
c.. Recognise and support the capacity of ICT platforms, standards
and protocols to provide interoperable communications tools for
vision-impaired and blind people, particularly though World Wide Web
Consortium standards and guidelines.
d.. Recognise and support the capacity of ICT platforms, standards,
and protocols to support various interoperable adaptive technologies for
people with other physical and psychological impairments, particularly
though World Wide Web Consortium standards and guidelines.
7. Access to content and technology
Australia has, comparatively speaking, one of the highest access rates
to Internet services in the world, though there are signs that access to new
forms of convergent ICTs will increasingly become a privilege for the
affluent. There is a clear link between income and Internet access. Only 10%
of households with incomes of less than $25,000 had Internet access in 2000
compared to 69% of those with incomes over $100,000 (according to the
Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2002). Linked with inequitable access to
education, community organisations, or to business, this gap is reinforced
by traditional patterns of inequity (family status, employment patterns,
language, and disability, geographic location). There is a danger that
"government online" will only benefit those who either have access, or the
money to pay for access to information. Government policies must ensure that
roll-out does not privilege the wealthy only. Access means access at a
The concept of access also includes a number of other characteristics:
a.. The ability of people to obtain and then use information,
particularly government information, freely and in ways that is suited to
their particular circumstances, on line or in person-to-person contexts.
b.. The ability of people to access the intellectual content of
information without being restricted by a lack of information literacy or
the inadequate presentation, intellectual or cultural, of information.
c.. The ability of people to access the technology in a socially
appropriate environment, whether that is the home, business or a community
d.. The ability of people to make effective use of ICTs for capacity
Finally, access is not just about access to content created by others.
Meaningful access also includes the ability to use ICTs to create new
content, to experiment with knowledge and skills and take risks. It includes
the capacity to establish more effective channels of communication and to
use the available tools to facilitate self-organisation. There are truly
transformative possibilities in the use of ICTs by civil society. The use of
ICTs must be driven by the seminal needs of civil society.
Globally, access to mainstream technological devices such as the
telephone is a privilege in many developing countries, (e.g., only 3 per
1000 people in Uganda), and even more exaggerated patterns are demonstrated
for access to ICTs, including the Internet (see www.bridges.org). We
therefore believe that global and international programs about the potential
of ICTs need to take into account the realities of current technical, wealth
and skills structures which serve to exaggerate disparities.
Developed nations achieved their high penetration rates using
monopolies and forced cross subsidy of rural access and disadvantaged
society access. Policies, such as those of the World Trade Organisation
(WTO), which mandate privatisation and deregulation, effectively barring
under-developed nations from using these proven strategies to improve their
telephone penetration, should be reconsidered.
8. Effective Use, not just Technology
The picture of an equitable ICT future, whether in Australia or
globally, is not just about technical infrastructure but about at least four
significant additional components. Experience shows that an over-emphasis on
technical imperatives is a recipe for failure. Many reports (see www.
bridges.org) make clear that digital inclusion consists of a careful
interplay of controllable variables, focusing on effective use, confirmed by
the experience of all of the participants to the writing of this document:
Skills: Without the provision and transmission of both technical and
community development or education skills, to as many people as possible,
the literacies that can be enhanced by ICTs will remain in the hands of a
Access: Access should not be determined by market influences alone; a
carefully- constructed combination of technical connectivities and relevant
socially-based access assists with differences related to wealth, gender,
Training: Training programs are particularly important as a means of
"broadcasting" the opportunities which ICTs offer to all people. Expert
training should be as widely diffused as possible. There is a clear need for
an expanded group of "knowledge workers" who can bridge both technical and
social issues, supported through community-service obligations of
telecommunications corporates and governments, to support (in turn) all
civil society organizations. Volunteers play an increasingly over-burdened
Support: ICTs do not come for free - the viability of ICTs, including
the Internet for many civil society organizations, is dependent upon ongoing
support from government. Volunteers, in particular, can only do a certain
amount for free, and their knowledge around technical issues is not
Government, in partnership with civil society and the private sector,
through corporate social responsibility programs and projects, need to
engage effectively in achieving positive social and economic outcomes from
the use of new ICTs through exploring the mixes which work best.
Opportunities for people to decide for themselves about the right mix of the
technical, skills, access and training are critical, and there are many
examples of ICT initiatives which have used this approach to invigorate
We emphasise that the use of technology is not the goal of social
development engagement with ICTs. In our view, governments and business tend
to ignore this, believing that engagement with the technical artefact alone
will ameliorate social problems, or act as an instant, valued learning
experience. This naivety ignores the well-known lessons of social and
community development in many countries over many years.
Civil society needs to be able to have much more input into the
transformative process and governments should not fear such engagement.
9. Volunteers in the Civil Society
Non-profits employed 6.8% of employed people in 2000-2001 and the
economic value of volunteers was estimated at $8.9 billion (according to
Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2002).
A number of recent studies in Australia have demonstrated that the
costs of ICTs, and problems associated with accessing appropriate skills,
training, and support are impeding the engagement of volunteers in the
management of community-based, non-profits. However, many third sector
organisations can see no rationale for getting engaged electronically. This
is probably the case in many other countries. However, given the fact that
ICTs allow us to interactively communicate in unforseen ways, it is likely
that there are many missed opportunities. Encouragement and leadership is
needed to increase the pool of creative ideas and opportunities. Governments
should regard volunteers as an integral part of the whole "electronic
equation," as a means of electronically contributing to the development of a
healthy "wired society". Investment in support of volunteers is an
investment in social and human capital which will in turn, be passed on to
other people and other social connections (via family, work, business).
10. Rights to Privacy
Civil society rights (personal, and group or community) need to be
protected and the government and private sectors should not diminish these
rights through inappropriate use or restriction on the use of ICTs for
either security or commercial reasons. Real risks around the use of ICTs
should be minimised. The problems associated with perceived risks (privacy,
spam, pornography, fraud) also need to be addressed more effectively.
There should be international protocols and agreements which provide
remedy for invasions of privacy, be they junk mail or other forms of abusive
11. Knowledge Sharing and Intellectual Property
The widening of ICT-based community networking in civil society is a
potential means of bringing into play "undiscovered public knowledge" --
knowledge that would otherwise remain unexpressed, or confined to small
groups. In Australia public networks which foster, aggregate and organise
websites of community groups, have provided a new locus for societal
knowledge production and collective memory.
However such public networks are chronically vulnerable, through
dependence on multiple and short-term grant funding (e.g., Australia's
"Networking the Nation" program). Governments need to recognise that
community networking, in all its diversity, is a fundamental, continuous
social process of knowledge production and use, comparable to any other in
the educational and cultural sectors. Existing educational and cultural
institutions are recurrently supported by government funds to foster public
production, use and preservation of knowledge, with safeguards as
appropriate for intellectual property.
Examples of such institutions are universities, research
organisations, public broadcasting, libraries, archives, museums, performing
arts organisations, institutes of sport. Comparable ongoing institutional
support framework is required urgently for community networks.
Community-based knowledge results from the daily experiences of people in
all facets of life, and has the potential to enrich mutual understanding and
collective memory in society, and thus the building of social capital.
The time has come for the first generation of short-term information
society programs such as "Networking the Nation" to be converted to
permanent policy, funding and institutional arrangements, to support
community networking as a means of knowledge creation and sharing,
benefiting citizens both present and future. Such arrangements support
recognition of intellectual property wherever appropriate, including respect
for limitations imposed by traditional law, or lore. The required
institutional framework to foster community networking can be effected
through enhancements to the roles of existing public knowledge institutions
specifically for these purposes.
12. A continuing dialogue
Given the complexity and speed of change associated with emerging
technologies, there should be ongoing processes to support discussion of
diverse viewpoints about how such technologies should be used and governed
for social development. Civil society needs ICT champions.
Too often "free market" voices (as the most familiar) prevail, and the
notion of ICTs being for common (non-profit) good and capacity building is
undervalued and under-represented in various forums, discussions and
consultations. If ICTs are to be a force for social good, governments must
champion and include the voices of civil society in developing policies,
programs, structures and legislation around the governance of ICTs. However,
civil society is dispersed and divergent. Government must continue to
encourage those voices by providing funding support for an independent,
ongoing dissemination of its message, and evaluation of effective use of
ICTs for community development.
Leadership by existing groups should be further supported by a
programme of action research conducted collaboratively at the local,
regional and international levels, leading to an ever-improving body of
shared evaluative knowledge, which reflects a fine-grained assessment of
community needs. Without such leading research, which focuses on grounded
models of social action, there will be no appropriate prime mover to promote
the appropriate use of ICTs and all of the social benefits that flow from
The participants in the Australian Roundtable on Civil Society (RACS)
have welcomed the opportunity to participate in the process to date and
would welcome the opportunity to sustain and nurture a continuing dialogue.
National and international councils for developing policy on ICT issues and
which facilitate that dialogue should be supported by government at every
ISBN: 1 876674 69 5 Date: December 2003.
Copyright: Australian Round Table on the Civil Society, CCNR, Monash
University, (www.ccnr.net/wsis/, ccnr at ccnr.net), COIN Internet Academy,
Central Queensland University, http://capricornia.org/coin,
w.taylor at cqu.edu.au
More information about the Link