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Ministers set their top three data sharing priorities

by Cameron Sinclair •
Free resource

At the national Data and Digital Ministers meeting (DDMM) on Friday 13 August, ministers agreed to plough ahead with work on a new national data sharing program – prioritising emergency management, recycling, and road safety.

The DDMM attendees also agreed to create a national data sharing network, introduce standard operating procedures for data sharing, promote the use of machine readable metadata, and improve how de-identified administrative data is handled.

The three priority areas for the data sharing program are low hanging fruit, and should return immediate and tangible benefits through increased national coordination. At the same time, they are also relatively uncontroversial as they are unlikely to raise significant legal, privacy or security concerns: 

  • Problems with data sharing arrangements for both planning and response to natural disasters and emergencies have been identified for many years, and were a strong focus of the 2020 Bushfires Royal Commission. The commission report noted that the absence of national standards resulted in “a patchwork of inconsistent data of variable quality, at different scales and related to different periods”.
  • Waste management has been a juggling act and source of conflict between jurisdictions since China banned imports of recyclable materials in 2018. Currently, data on waste disposal is supplied piecemeal by the states and territories to the federal Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment, which is then responsible for cleansing and organising it for its annual National Waste Reports.
  • Road safety data is also a digital salad collated from several sources (primarily state police and various hospital systems) by the Bureau of Infrastructure and Transport Research Economics and the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. The Office of Road Safety states that “Australia does not presently have the systems in place to reliably measure national indicators of serious (non-fatal and disabling) injuries from road crashes, in part because of jurisdictional differences in injury definitions and reporting arrangements”.

Avoiding privacy pitfalls – for now

None of these three priority areas would involve the use of personal data that may be subject to privacy or disclosure obligations, as may be the case with health data, for example.

As we have noted in Intermedium’s Digital Government Readiness Indicator (DGRI) report, there are disparities in data privacy legislation across states and territories, which can lead to jurisdictions refusing to share data with governments that have weaker privacy protections.

While the national governments (both New Zealand and Australia) have enacted comprehensive privacy regimes through legislation, the states rely on a patchwork of principles, policy, commissioners, and law. There are strong frameworks in place in ACT, NT, Queensland, NSW, and Tasmania; but big gaps in WA and SA. Victoria has one of the “most robust” frameworks, which may present obstacles to future cooperation – for example, the state refused to allow federal agencies to access its drivers’ licence photos when first signing up to the National Driver Licence Facial Recognition Solution, citing unease with the breadth of proposed federal identity-matching legislation.

Ministers at the DDMM agreed that future priority areas could include veterans' health, the Closing the Gap program, and family, domestic and sexual violence, all of which are likely to present greater privacy concerns than the initial three focus areas.

The decision to set three priority areas comes five weeks after the National Cabinet agreed to and signed the Intergovernmental Agreement on Data Sharing (IGA) on 9 July, during a meeting ostensibly to discuss the recent Delta variant outbreak, quarantine arrangements, and a national vaccine strategy.

Minister Stuart Robert chairs the DDMM and is leading the drive. In December 2020 he introduced draft legislation to authorise and regulate access to government data, though Labor senators have signalled that they will oppose the bill on privacy grounds.

The DDMM has met on five occasions since superseding the Australian Data and Digital Council in October 2020 (note that New Zealand attends as an observer):

 

Date

13 Nov 20

26 Feb 21

16 Apr 21

23 Jul

13 Aug

Federal

Stuart Robert

Stuart Robert

Stuart Robert

Stuart Robert

Stuart Robert

NSW

Victor Dominello

Victor Dominello

Victor Dominello

Victor Dominello

Victor Dominello

VIC

Danny Pearson

Danny Pearson

Danny Pearson

Danny Pearson

Danny Pearson

WA

Dave Kelly

Caretaker period

Don Punch

Don Punch

-

TAS

Michael Ferguson

Michael Ferguson

Caretaker period

-

-

SA

-

-

Stephen Patterson

David Pisoni

David Pisoni

QLD

-

Leeanne Enoch

Leeanne Enoch

Leeanne Enoch

-

ACT

Chris Steel

Chris Steel

Chris Steel

Chris Steel

Chris Steel

NT

Paul Kirby

-

Paul Kirby

-

-

NZ

-

David Clark

David Clark

-

-

 

Unfortunately, attendance appears to have declined over the last two meetings. Considering that the absentee ministers largely overlap with the jurisdictions that scored poorly in Intermedium’s last DGRI, it is disappointing that they are not taking advantage of the opportunity to engage collaboratively with other jurisdictions on data issues.

 
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