Major parties battling for regional Australia tech vote

Labor has offered up AU$25 million for regional Digital Skills Hubs and the Liberals will stand up five more Regional Study Hubs if elected.

The federal opposition and the current government have both proposed boosting the digital skills of those living in regional Australia as part of their respective election campaigns.

If elected, Labor has promised a AU$25 million investment into a network of Digital Skills Hubs to benefit 500,000 individuals as part of its AU$245 million plan to improve regional connectivity.

"Businesses and governments are using technology to deliver an ever-increasing range of services, but without the right digital skills, many Australians are locked out from accessing those services," a joint statement from Shadow Minister for the Digital Economy Ed Husic and Shadow Minister for Regional Communications Stephen Jones said.

"And the world of work increasingly expects average Australians to have higher levels of digital skills."

The hubs, the Labor duo said, would specifically target groups shown to be digitally excluded, such as older Australians, Indigenous Australians, people living with disability, and the long-term unemployed. The hubs would also work alongside existing community centres, libraries, and other public facilities, and also create digital partners such as not-for-profit social enterprises.

It is expected Labor will seek local organisations to host the hubs, with delivery partners to provide the locations. 

"Through our investment, we will focus on finding quicker ways of skilling up Australians through a combination of existing and new sites," Labor said.

With regional Australia also in the sights of the current government, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced a AU$15 million investment into the creation of five more Regional Study Hubs, which aims to support university students to stay in their local communities.

Announced in November with AU$24.2 million in funding over four years, the 16 community-owned, regional study hubs will be based in 23 sites across regional Australia and provide infrastructure such as study spaces, video conferencing, computing facilities, and internet access, as well as academic support for students studying via distance at partner universities.

AU$2 million has also been promised to the Country Education Partnership's Rural Inspire initiative if the Coalition is elected, with the cash injection to support young people living in rural communities.

"Regional Australia is at the heart of our plan for a stronger economy," Morrison said. "Our support for regional Australia and our regional deals will boost investment outside the major cities and we'll tackle the digital and educational divide between the city and our regions."

With the government previously announcing ahead of the 2019 Federal Budget that it would invest AU$220 million to improve regional telecommunications -- with AU$160 million going towards funding two more rounds of the mobile blackspots program; and AU$60 million to develop a Regional Connectivity Program -- Morrison on Tuesday said he is committed to the cause.

"We are committed to eliminating mobile blackspots across 1 million square kilometres of regional Australia by 2025 (an area larger than the size of South Australia)," he added. "This will deliver new or improved mobile coverage for tens of thousands of households and thousands of kilometres of regional roads."  

Building on an initiative the Australia Labor Party announced at the weekend centred on stopping multinationals from being able to get tax deductions on certain royalty payments, Shadow Treasurer Chris Bowen said on Tuesday that if elected, Labor would require multinationals operating in Australia to produce country-by-country reports that detail where a firm operates, how much revenue they book there, and how much tax they pay.

Where deals involving tax havens are concerned, Labor said that if elected, it would expect the Foreign Investment Review Board to consider dealings with such jurisdictions when assessing tax and transparency risks in foreign takeovers.  

The following hot spots will be put on Labor's blacklist: Cayman Islands, Bermuda, Andorra, Liechtenstein, Guernsey, Monaco, Mauritius, Liberia, Seychelles, Brunei, Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, British Virgin Islands, Grenada, Montserrat, Panama, St Vincent and the Grenadines, St Kitts and Nevis, Turks and Caicos, and the US Virgin Islands.  

Additionally, the range of tax-related measures would also require companies operating in Australia to publicly report on Austrac data, specifically money sent overseas, and would see the Australian government tender process require all companies to state their country of domicile for tax purposes.

In the lead up to the federal election, Labor has also promised a AU$3 million Blockchain Academy in Perth, a AU$3 million National Centre of Artificial Intelligence (AI) Excellence in Melbourne, a AU$2 million cybersecurity training centre, and a human eye over any Commonwealth data-matching activity.

Meanwhile, the Morrison campaign has seen the promise of protecting children from online predators and AU$156 million to thwart cybercrime and beef up Australia's cyber talent.

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