Government departments need to be able to share data with each other to deliver better services

The Hon Stuart Robert MP, Minister for the National Disability Insurance Scheme, Minister for Government Services

Whether claiming a Medicare rebate, having a passport checked before an overseas trip, lodging a tax return or simply looking at the weather forecast, every day millions of Australians rely on services delivered by the Australian Government.  As you would expect government collects and holds data on a range of things – in many cases this information is vital in delivering these important services.

This data is often shared between departments – making government work more effectively and efficiently; this is nothing new.

Now more than ever Australians expect government services to be simple, seamless, and secure— because that’s their lived experience of other services like shopping and banking.

Government holds a unique service delivery role - providing services during some of our most important life events like having a baby, seeking a job or reaching out for a helping hand when you need some support.

Unlike a bank or a business, when Australians face an unsatisfying experience they aren’t able to shop around – they aren’t able to look for a different service provider. So it’s important government continually strives to deliver the best experience – to be a market leader. This can include looking to see what the private sector is providing to stay competitive.

As the Minister responsible for the National Disability Insurance Scheme and Government Services, I have been talking with people right across Australia about how even the smallest improvement to government services can have a big impact on people’s lives. Improvements such as fewer questions on an aged care form, making it easier to report income online, or even a single, clear point of access—such as an app on your phone—can all have an immediate and lasting positive impact.

But government and the public servants that keep it functioning day in day out often face very real barriers to the effective delivery of services. I have, much to the chagrin of my senior executives, made a habit of dropping into service centres unannounced. When I do I seek to hear from those public servants at the very coalface of service delivery and get an appreciation of what is standing in the way of them doing what they do best – public service.

The systems, policies and processes are all too often the cause of friction when it comes to service delivery. The public servants I have met with just want their jobs to be that much easier; mirroring in many respects the citizens they are seeking to serve.

Too often there are seemingly arbitrary blockages that inhibit the effective passage of information that could make service delivery more straightforward and improve the experience of our citizens.

It is clear how government shares data is key part of engaging with the service delivery challenge.

Through better use and sharing of public sector data across government, Australians will no longer have to tell us the same basic information over and over again. It will mean less time on the phone and less forms that need to be filled out.  

It will also remove blockages preventing our professional, capable and trusted public service from serving our community. They will be empowered with the right information at the right time.

Better data sharing will also ignite Australia’s world-class research sector which will leverage newly accessible insights to develop solutions to public problems and test which programs are delivering as intended—and which ones are not.

The sharing of public sector data has incredible potential at both the national level and at the individual level, but it must be done prudently and safely to maintain the hard-won trust our public service has with the Australian community.  

That is why we are ensuring any public sector data sharing arrangements are underpinned by enhanced safeguards, privacy and security protections. An important part of this is data sharing will not be used for compliance or law enforcement. This is about effective service delivery.

Against this context the Government is developing new public sector data sharing and release legislation – and this week released a discussion paper on our proposal.

The new laws will enshrine these protections, along with a clear, consistent and transparent approach to the sharing of public sector data.

It is crucial we get the legislation right— which is why feedback on our approach is so important.

This Discussion Paper acknowledges the feedback and perspectives we have heard so far during the extensive engagement undertaken with privacy experts, researchers, legal experts, businesses and all levels of government over the past 12 months.

We will continue to engage with you and the broader community as we work our way through the development of the new legislation and how we deliver not just better services, but also a better experience for Australian people and businesses.

I encourage you to read the Discussion Paper and contribute your time, ideas and feedback so we can ensure we make the most of this important national asset to benefit all Australians.

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