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Tom Worthington With Tom Worthington FACS, Visiting Fellow, Department of Computer Science, Australian National University

How Do Politicians Use The Internet?, 3 July 2002

Dr Peter Chen from the Centre for Public Policy at University of Melbourne has had 1,300 Australian politicians tell him how they use the Internet and what they think of electronic voting. There is a carefully researched report available on-line.

Peter found eighty-five percent of Australian elected representatives’ access the Internet in some form which is substantially higher than that of the total Australian population (sixty-four percent); there is a marked difference between parliamentarians (who tend to use the web more, and more frequently) and councillors (more likely to not use the web, or to use in moderation); urban representatives being more than twice as likely to engage in the practice than their rural counterparts (fifty versus twenty-six percent); and overall, forty percent of representatives would support online voting in some form.

Peter recommends more support for Internet in local and regional levels of government; training in IT for rural councils, and representatives with longer lengths in office; and for politicians who have used on-line consultation should be encouraged to tell their peers about it.

Some highlights:

... survey of Australian elected representatives undertaken during the first half of 2002. The aims of the research were to examine the use of, and interest in, new media technologies, such as the Internet, by Australia’s elected officials across four levels of government: Commonwealth, State and Territory parliamentarians, Local Government councillors, and councillors of the Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander Commission.

Of the population universe of approximately 6,767 elected representatives, 1,321 responded to the survey, representing a total response rate of just under twenty percent. The survey was distributed directly to elected representatives, by electronic mail for those representatives with publicly-available electronic mail addresses (thirty percent of the population universe) and via personal letter for those without electronic mail addresses...

Key Findings

Eighty-five percent of Australian elected representatives’ access the Internet in some form (either directly, or through a member of staff – 17.3% for parliamentarians and 3.6% for councillors), with most representatives browsing on a weekly or daily basis.

This figure is substantially higher than that of the total Australian population, with use of the Internet in 2001 estimated at only sixty-four percent (National Office of the Information Economy, 2002), however at the highest and lowest usage rate, there is a marked difference between parliamentarians (who tend to use the web more, and more frequently) and councillors (more likely to not use the web, or to use in moderation)...

Parliamentarians are clearly the heaviest users of electronic mail, more than seventy-percent using it more than once a day, while Councillors are more likely not to use this technology (17% as opposed to 3% for parliamentarians)...

Overall, representatives engage in a range of online activities, with the establishment of websites, telecommuting, and electronic mailing lists and newsgroups most popular...

Councillors are less likely, overall, to see the importance of the technology, with over twenty percent seeing new media as either “not at all important” or of only “minor importance”...

Overall, approximately ten percent of representatives indicated no skill with computers whatsoever, and lower skill levels are found:

Overall, parliamentarians are twice as likely (64%) to engage in online consultation than their peers in local government and ATSIC (32%)....

Rural and urban variations are quite prevalent in determining online consultation, urban representatives being more than twice as likely to engage in the practice than their rural counterparts (fifty versus twenty-six percent).

... approximately one-quarter of representatives uncertain about the practice of online voting (uncertainty is higher among parliamentarians than councillors). One third of representatives are opposed to the practice (higher for councillors than parliamentarians), while, overall, forty percent of representatives would support online voting in some form...

From: Executive Summary, Australian Elected Representativesí Use of New Media Technologies, Research Report, Peter Chen, 17th June 2002

Peter Chen completed his PhD on Australia's online censorship regime at the Australian National University, before joining the Department of Political Science at Melbourne in 2002. He has been an information technology consultant, working on areas of online service delivery for the public sector, and a policy and research officer with the Victorian police, working on 'hate crime' data collection and police recruiting of people from non-English speaking backgrounds.

From: Arts > Dept > Political Science > Staff > Peter Chen, The University of Melbourne, 2002

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