New legislation

The Australian Government is working to develop better, more seamless services to the public. To do this, we need to modernise how we manage the wealth of information supplied by Australians to various government agencies.

New legislation to support better sharing of government held data builds on the Government’s response to recommendations made by the Productivity Commission’s Data Availability and Use Inquiry.

As part of getting these reforms right, we have engaged widely and consulted on an Issues Paper in July-August 2018, followed by a Discussion Paper in September-October 2019.

We have taken this feedback on board; we are progressing the data reform legislation, previously known as the Data Sharing and Release legislation, as the Data Availability and Transparency legislation. When the legislation passes Parliament, it will be known as the Data Availability and Transparency Act (DATA).


 

Summary

The reforms are about streamlining the sharing of government data so we can deliver better services, better decisions and better government, for all Australians.

Under the legislation, data will only be shared for three purposes:

  1. Government services delivery – more convenient access to the information and services people need.
  2. Government policy and programs – planning for the future based on the best available information.
  3. Research and development – to guide the country’s academics, scientists and innovators to make our economy, environment and society healthier into the future.

Modern and streamlined legislation will:

  • provide government agencies (Data Custodians) with an authorisation to share government data to accredited users such as government agencies, state and territory authorities, and non-government entities such as universities
  • take a holistic risk management approach to safeguard the sharing of government data
  • empower the National Data Commissioner to develop requirements and guidance to support organisations and individuals who share data using the legislation
  • establish clear regulations, including enforcement and accountability mechanisms.

 

We need reform

We need to reform Australia’s data sharing system because there are more than 500 secrecy provisions, some which sometimes make sharing impossible, even when it makes good sense to share. These provisions offer important protections in some contexts, and will remain in place – but if stringent safeguarding requirements are met, this legislation offers a new path to share data.

Recent improvements in technology have also allowed us to gain more insights from data and opened new opportunities to use existing government datasets for the public good. While we need to keep up with these opportunities, we also face new challenges, which this legislation seeks to manage.

Data sharing already happens, but sometimes the processes and protections are inconsistent. This limits the potential of Australia’s data to create a better society for everyone. We must streamline and modernise how we share data, while ensuring privacy and security continue to be protected.

Sharing for the public interest

We want to streamline the sharing of government data so we can deliver better services, better decisions and better government, for all Australians.

The reforms will modernise how government shares and uses data. This means that, under this legislation, data would only be shared with an accredited user where there is benefit to Australians in doing so. Data will only be shared for three purposes:

  1. Government services delivery – more convenient access to the information and services people need.
  2. Government policy and programs – planning for the future based on the best available information.
  3. Research and development – to guide the country’s academics, scientists and innovators to make our economy, environment and society healthier into the future.

Find out more about how government uses data.

Streamlined, safe and secure

We understand the need to protect your privacy and be transparent about how your data is used, the legislation will require that data is only shared where it is safe and secure. There will be transparency and accountability mechanisms put in place so that you can find out what data is being shared, with who and for what purpose, including publishing on our website:

  • agreements for data shared under the legislation
  • a list of agencies, businesses, individuals and organisations accredited by us
  • annual reports on the operation of the system.

It will build on existing safeguards to bring a more consistent and transparent approach to how the public service shares data. This includes consistent request forms, requirements and purposes across all data sharing under the legislation.

Government agencies will apply an internationally recognised risk management approach when they consider a request for their data. If the risks cannot be appropriately managed and the safeguards are not suitable, the data will not be shared. The Data Custodian which holds the data will have the final say, not the National Data Commissioner.

The legislation is about making the best use of the available data held by government. Where data is shared for policy, programs or research, researchers who use it will not need access to identifying information like your name or phone number. 

However, to improve government services, some of your information might need to be identifiable; data can be used to pre-fill forms, reduce waiting times by ensuring that people are directed to the right access point, and improve services so that the public is receiving the best outcomes, support and information.

More than legislation

The National Data Commissioner has a significant role in driving the reforms by providing practical guidance and advice as the system is rolled out and matures. Training material will be made available to support the legislation when it comes into effect. The National Data Commissioner will, as part of their regulatory approach, check to ensure those participating in the system are following the rules and doing the right thing.

Data is an essential component that informs the outputs and outcomes delivered by the APS and the Australian Government. To get the most out of their data, agencies need to look after and manage their data assets in the same way they look after their people, physical property and IT systems. This is why we will release guidance and information on data management best practice.

Out of scope

While there will not always be an ‘opt out’ for individuals under this legislation, there will be rigorous requirements around the use of data including a public interest test, and limits on what it can be used for.  It cannot be shared for law enforcement, national security or compliance activities which includes investigations, monitoring and taking action targeted at individuals and organisations to keep Australia safe.

The Australian Privacy Principle 7 – Direct Marketing and competition and consumer law continue to apply, so access to government data will not be allowed if it results in unfair market advantage or lead to practices that target or mislead people, such as unwanted marketing or price discrimination.

An evolving system

The legislation will be principles-based so it can be adapted to new technologies and community expectations. The objectives of the Data Availability and Transparency legislation will be to:

  • consistently safeguard government data sharing and release
  • enhance the integrity of the data system
  • earn trust in use of government data
  • establish institutional arrangements
  • promote better sharing of government data.

The initial focus of the legislation will be on sharing of Australian Government data. However, the legislation will allow for participation by state and territory agencies so that we can move towards a consistent national data system over time.

The legislation will be drafted with an awareness of existing data sharing regimes in New South Wales, South Australia, and Victoria, as well as emerging regimes in other states and territories. While there are important differences with these regimes, much can also be achieved through adopting consistent practices across jurisdictions to allow safe sharing of data.

The National Data Commissioner will collaborate with other agencies and regulators to ensure consistent approaches to data sharing across agencies and all levels of government. 

The legislation will provide an alternative pathway to data sharing and does not mandate agencies to share data. Agencies can choose not to share data at any stage if, for example, they do not think it is safe, or if the requester is not accredited.