Internet a windfall for Australian economy

SYDNEY, Aug 3, 2011 (AFP) - The Internet now accounts for 3.6 percent of Australia's economic growth, rivalling the retail sector in value or worth about half the country's lucrative mining exports, a study reported Wednesday.

The Deloitte/Access Economics study said the Internet contributed Aus$50 billion (US$53 billion) to Australia's gross domestic product in 2010, as much as the retail and education sectors and more than agriculture and fishing.

Though only half as valuable as the key mining sector, which contributed Aus$100 billion to GDP in 2010, the Internet was already worth as much as the iron ore industry -- a major economic driver fueled by Asia's steel mills.

By 2016 the Internet's contribution to GDP was expected to be Aus$70 billion, with annual growth of about seven percent -- double the predicted growth rate for the national economy -- the report said.

"The Connected Continent" study was commissioned by Google, and the online giant's Australian director, Nick Leeder, said it was the first such stocktake of the Internet's value in the mining-driven country.

It found that Internet use had doubled in Australia in the past four years and the number of connected households was expected to increase 20 percent by 2016.

The Internet's contribution to GDP was measured by tallying the amount spent by consumers, businesses, government and overseas residents on Internet-related goods and services that were produced in Australia.

Separately, the Internet directly employed 190,000 Australians, generating Aus$22 billion last year, the report found.

The Internet's value in Australia was on a par with France, above Italy, Spain and Russia, but below Britain, Sweden and Hong Kong, according to the study.

Ric Simes, leader of the study, said the Internet was fundamentally transforming the way business was done, with almost every Australian company and government agency having an online presence.

"The Internet is having a profound effect on how the economy and society works in many ways that we don’t fully yet understand," said Simes.

Australia's finance and real estate agencies were leading the online charge but primary industries such as farming and mining were also enthusiastic adopters of the Internet, according to the study.

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