Data availability and use: inquiry report

8 May 2017

Key points

  • Extraordinary growth in data generation and usability has enabled a kaleidoscope of new business models, products and insights. Data frameworks and protections developed prior to sweeping digitisation need reform. This is a global phenomenon and Australia, to its detriment, is not yet participating.
  • Improved data access and use can enable new products and services that transform everyday life, drive efficiency and safety, create productivity gains and allow better decision making.
  • The substantive argument for making data more available is that opportunities to use it are largely unknown until the data sources themselves are better known, and until data users have been able to undertake discovery of data.
  • Lack of trust by both data custodians and users in existing data access processes and protections and numerous hurdles to sharing and releasing data are choking the use and value of Australia's data. In fact, improving trust community-wide is a key objective.
  • Marginal changes to existing structures and legislation will not suffice. Recommended reforms are aimed at moving from a system based on risk aversion and avoidance, to one based on transparency and confidence in data processes, treating data as an asset and not a threat. Significant change is needed for Australia's open government agenda and the rights of consumers to data to catch up with achievements in competing economies.
    • At the centre of recommended reforms is a new Data Sharing and Release Act, and a National Data Custodian to guide and monitor new access and use arrangements, including proactively managing risks and broader ethical considerations around data use
    • A new Comprehensive Right for consumers would give individuals and small/medium businesses opportunities for active use of their own data and represent fundamental reform to Australia's competition policy in a digital world. This right would create for consumers:
      • powers comparable to those in the Privacy Act to view, request edits or corrections, and be advised of the trade to third parties of consumer information held on them
      • a new right to have a machine-readable copy of their consumer data provided either to them or directly to a nominated third party, such as a new service provider.
  • A key facet of the recommended reforms is the creation of a data sharing and release structure that indicates to all data custodians a strong and clear cultural shift towards better data use that can be dialled up for the sharing or release of higher-risk datasets.
    • For datasets designated as national interest, all restrictions to access and use contained in a variety of national and state legislation, and other program-specific policies, would be replaced by new arrangements under the Data Sharing and Release Act. National Interest Datasets would be resourced by the Commonwealth as national assets.
    • A suite of Accredited Release Authorities would be sectoral hubs of expertise and enable the ongoing maintenance of, and streamlined access to, National Interest Datasets as well as to other datasets to be linked and shared or released.
    • A streamlining of ethics committee approval processes would provide more timely access to identifiable data for research and policy development purposes.
  • Incremental costs of more open data access and use — including those associated with better risk management and alterations to business data systems — will exist but should be substantially outweighed by the opportunities presented.
  • Governments that ignore potential gains through consumer data rights will make the task of garnering social licence needed for other data reforms more difficult. Decoupling elements of this Framework runs the risk of limiting benefits to, and support from, the wider public.
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