Amongst the vaccine rollout and coronavirus news this month, the National Cabinet has signed off on a cross-jurisdiction data sharing agreement, after several years’ work.
Known as the Intergovernmental Agreement on Data Sharing (IGA), it was signed by state, territory, and commonwealth leaders on 9 July 2021, and makes data sharing the default, when “it can be done safely, securely and lawfully”.
The data sets that will fall into the work program will be finalised after further consultations with respective data and digital ministers around the country - “where sharing is permitted by or under law”.
It is expected that early applications of the agreement will include data sets that can be used for emergency management, policing, and mutual recognition of various inter-state licencing systems.
The agreement comes just three months after National Cabinet decided, on 12 April, to seek advice from data and digital ministers on how public data can be safely and securely shared across jurisdictions to improve service and program delivery.
It follows several years of work, led by Minister Stuart Robert, to move from data sets that are either private (i.e. closed) or public (i.e. open), to introduce a third category of ‘shared’ data – allowing “controlled access to the right people for the right reasons with safeguards in place.”
The agreement will help governments to adhere to the principle of “Tell Us Once” when citizens are providing information, and assist with pre-filling forms - something anyone trying to make a vaccine booking would have encountered recently.
Deborah Anton was appointed the Interim National Data Commissioner - a position within the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet - in August 2019. A discussion paper on legislative reform to improve data sharing was released a month later.
In December 2020, Robert introduced draft legislation for a Data Authorisation and Transparency Act (DATA). The bill sought to authorise and regulate access to Australian Government data; elevate the National Data Commissioner to an independent statutory office holder; create a National Data Advisory Council; and exempt sensitive data from FOI requests.
The draft laws were referred to the Senate Finance and Public Administration (FPA) Committee for further public consultation in February 2021. Many observers raised questions about data privacy. In a dissenting report, Labor senators describe the bill as “a reckless treatment of public trust.”
The draft legislation is yet to be debated in Federal Parliament, but the data sharing agreement allows states and territories to get planning underway.