Speech: Australian Government Data Summit

More Data for Better Decisions

On 23 March 2022, then National Data Commissioner Designate, Ms Gayle Milnes, addressed the Annual Australian Government Data Summit. 

 

Thank you for the invitation to speak at this Data Summit this morning.

It’s a pleasure to be here today on Ngunnawal Country and to be a part of this event along with so many others in the data community. 

I’d like to begin by acknowledging the Traditional Owners of the land on which we meet today and to pay my respects to Elders past and present. For those Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders joining us today, it’s great to have you here.

I’ve been asked to speak today about implementing the Australian Government’s data reforms. I’ll talk about the role of more and better data in informing better decisions.  I’ll go on to outline a new, best practice scheme for sharing Australian Government data. Then I will give you a flavour of the Australian Government’s recently released Data Strategy.

Exponential growth in data informing better decisions

Data is one of the significant currencies of today’s world. Let me give you a few statistics to illustrate the point. The International Data Corporation predicts the global datasphere will grow more than five-fold in the seven years to 2025 from 33 zettabytes to 175 zettabytes. These data, reported at higher frequencies, lower levels of disaggregation, and with minimal lags, can provide us with a more accurate and timely picture of what is happening, enabling governments, business and individuals to make more informed, better decisions.

A decade ago, grappling with the global financial crisis, Australian Government officials observed we were looking through fogged up glasses at the road behind us. Compare this with the COVID-19 pandemic where Treasury and others drew on mobility data from Apple and Google, spending data from some of the commercial banks and administrative data such as Single Touch Payroll to inform the Government’s targeted and timely economic response – programs like JobKeeper and JobSeeker.

On the health front, data from the Australian Immunisation Register has also been linked with data from the Multi-Agency Data Integration Project led by the Australian Bureau of Statistics to inform the roll out of COVID vaccines.

The Bureau of Meteorology and our other scientific agencies such as Geoscience Australia have incredible data assets. These play a critical role in preparing for and responding to natural disasters among other things.

A new, best practice scheme for sharing Australian Government data

Recognising these trends, in 2016 the Australian Government commissioned the Productivity Commission to investigate ways to improve the availability and use of public and private sector data. In response, the Government accepted the PC’s recommendation to establish new data sharing arrangements to improve access to public data, subject to strict privacy and security protections.

I want to acknowledge the excellent work of Deb Anton and her team, including the National Data Advisory Council, who over the last two years or more have developed the proposed Data Availability and Transparency Act. The team received more than 270 submissions, and undertook more than 70 round tables. There were a number of Parliamentary reviews of the bills. I’d like to thank the many whose suggestions have strengthened the scheme. 

The proposed legislation will underpin a new scheme – a best practice scheme - for sharing Australian Government data, underpinned by strong safeguards and simplified, efficient processes. I’ll be responsible for overseeing the scheme. It’s also my job to educate and foster best practice data sharing.

The Data Availability and Transparency Scheme – the DATA Scheme as we like to call it -  sets us up to do even more with our data, to realise its full value and for a future where the Australian Government is a best in class manager and user of data. 

The scheme is focused on increasing the availability and use of Australian Government data helping us deliver government services that are simple, helpful, respectful and transparent, inform better Government policy and programs, and support world-leading research and development.

Passage of the proposed Data Availability and Transparency Act remains a priority for the Government and the Office of the National Data Commissioner. 

Alongside this, we’re focused on preparing for the scheme’s commencement – building awareness and understanding of the scheme as well as preparedness to participate.

Let me outline the main elements of the scheme.

Under the scheme an accredited data user can make a request for data from an Australian Government agency. It could be a request from a NSW government agency to the Australian Government Department of Health, for example. Or from one Australian Government agency to another. The data may be shared directly or via an accredited data service provider.

The strong safeguards require that:

  • sharing be in the public interest and for one of three purposes – to deliver government services, to inform government policy and programs, or for research and development
     
  • participants in the scheme be accredited; a data sharing agreement is in place that applies the data sharing principles
     
  • all sharing is consistent with the Privacy Act 1988 and additional privacy protections apply depending on the purpose for which data is being shared
     
  • the National Data Commissioner as a trusted overseer of the scheme keeps public registers of accredited participants and data sharing agreements, reports annually on the scheme, as well as monitors activities and works with others such as the Australian Privacy Commissioner to ensure compliance, taking action where appropriate.

As part of my education role and to prepare for the commencement of the scheme, we are engaging with Australian Government agencies and others to encourage participation in the scheme and provide you with information, tools and guidance to support the step change and ensure best practice data sharing.

The Office of the National Data Commissioner is working to make it easier to discover Australian Government data.Through the Australian Government’s $16.5 million Data Discovery initiative, we are working with Australian Government entities to support them to develop consistent data inventories and create a searchable Australian Government Data Catalogue. We have started pilots with three participating agencies – the Department of Education, Skills and Employment, the Department of Infrastructure,Transport, Regional Development and Communications, and the Department of Finance. We are scaling up the program building partnerships with more than 20 Australian Government agencies that have expressed an interest in the initiative. 

With the help of many Australian Government agencies and other data users, we are also building Dataplace.This $11 million commitment from the Australian Government will deliver a one stop shop where users can make a request for data from any Commonwealth agency. Dataplace will underpin the administration of the DATA Scheme and provide a tool for helping Australian Government agencies manage an increasing number of data requests, in a more timely and efficient manner. 

Australia’s Data Strategy

The DATA Scheme has a key role to play in helping realise the Australian Government’s vision for Australia to become a modern data-driven society by 2030. This is the vision articulated in Australia’s first Data Strategy, released in December 2021 for consultation through until June 2022. The strategy builds on the 2015 Public Data Policy Statement and other earlier initiatives such as the Data Integration Partnership for Australia, a $130 million initiative to build data infrastructure and capability across the APS.

The Data Strategy complements other strategies like the Australian Government’s Digital Economy Strategy which aims to position Australia as a leading digital economy and society by 2030 and the Digital Government Strategy where the focus is on being one of the top three digital governments in the world by 2025 with all government services available digitally.

The Data Strategy focuses on three areas: maximising the value of data, protecting data to build trust, and enabling the use of data. It sets out the actions the Australian Government will take to realise the vision, building on work already underway. There is loads of exciting work going on: 
 

  • the DATA Scheme, the Data Discovery initiative and data.gov.au enhancements
  • the APS Data Profession, headed by the Australian Statistician, Dr David Gruen.  For more about what’s happening with the Data Profession see David’s recent address to the Delving into Data forum.
  • Digital Atlas of Australia – a $40 million commitment for Geoscience Australia to develop an interactive map of Australia
     
  • more than $200 million for the Bureau of Meteorology, CSIRO, Geoscience Australia and the Australian Bureau of Statistics to establish the Australian Climate Service to support natural disaster preparedness, response and recovery.  Working together, these agencies were able to provide data to the National Resilience and Recovery Agency within 24 hours to help them to estimate the population adversely affected by the recent floods.
  • $100 million for Treasury to accelerate rollout of the Consumer Data Right – also a recommendation from the PC’s 2017 report on data availability and use, aimed at expanding the control individual and business consumers have over data about them that is held by business from the banking to the energy and telecommunications sectors
  • with an investment of $125 million, Geoscience Australia will expand the Exploring the Future program to improve our understanding of the nation’s minerals, energy and groundwater resource potential
  • up to $40 million has been committed for the Department of Social Services to extend the National Disability Data Asset pilot and develop a more comprehensive linking of Commonwealth and state and territory data
  • the Department of Health will invest more than $360 million in data to improve outcomes and transitions between health and aged care settings and $117 million on data for better mental health and suicide prevention services
  • the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications is developing a National Freight Data Hub ($16.5 million) and a Regional Data Hub ($13 million)
  • $14 million to build the Vocational Education and Training National Data Asset to improve our understanding of employment and social outcomes for VET students
  • a review of the Privacy Act 1988 to ensure personal data is better protected and the digital economy is better supported
  • $1.67 billion to implement the Cyber Security Strategy.
  • an Intergovernmental Agreement on Data Sharing signed in 2021 commits the Commonwealth, state and territory governments to share public sector data by default, be responsive to data requests and share data unless there is a legitimate reason not to.

Developments in technology, the DATA Scheme and the Australian Data Strategy offer us so many opportunities. Let’s realise them. Let’s do so in a way that builds our capability as data managers and users, delivers better outcomes for Australians and builds their trust and confidence in us.

Legislation Data Sharing

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