Government response to Productivity Commission Inquiry into data availability and use

  • Creation of a National Data Commissioner to oversee a new data access framework.
  • New legislation to remove red tape inhibiting research and growth while maintaining data security and privacy.
  • A new Consumer Data Right to help Australians find a better deal.
  • The Turnbull Government is today announcing a new national body to oversee access to Government-held data as part of a suite of reforms recommended by the Productivity Commission.

The reforms, costing $65 million over the next four years, include creating an office of the National Data Commissioner whose role will be to implement a simpler and more efficient data sharing and release framework within government. The Commissioner will also work together with the Australian Privacy Commissioner to ensure that the protection of individual privacy remains paramount under the new sharing arrangements.

Australia’s data is an important national resource which, when used correctly, can greatly assist consumers, researchers, government agencies and industry to better understand the world we live in and to make sound investment decisions based on evidence.

But too often, the Productivity Commission found that unnecessary barriers to data access were stifling innovation, competition, development and even important research opportunities that could benefit the entire community. The Commission identified more than 500 different secrecy provisions and regulations that exist within government agencies that regulate the use and release of data.

As a result of that complexity, many agencies had adopted a default position of saying “no” to requests for data access – even when the request has come from another government department or when the sensitivity of the information is low. Former Australian of the Year and respected medical researcher Prof. Fiona Stanley has long advocated for data reforms and believes the measures being announced today will help to save lives.

In speaking with her about these changes, she highlighted one example of how a lack of access to data relating to medications prescribed to women during pregnancy was inhibiting the ability of researchers to spot any emerging trends such as birth defects that could be linked to new drugs.

The Data Commissioner will make it easier for that data to be shared in a way that will safeguard the privacy of individuals, while delivering enormous benefits to the Australian population. Similarly, improving data sharing will also help improve transparency around government policy.Increased access to multiple data sets will give researchers the ability to see very quickly whether policies are working as intended, or if they need to be adjusted or abandoned altogether.

To enable the Data Commissioner to drive the cultural change needed within government agencies, new legislation will also be drafted to streamline data sharing and release arrangements within government, subject to stringent data safeguards.Australians have a right to know that their data is being used responsibly. That is why the new laws will ensure safeguards around privacy remain strong.

The Data Commissioner will also be assisted in its oversight role by a new National Data Advisory Council which consult widely with community groups, provide advice on ethical data use, technical best practice, and the latest industry and international developments.

Accredited Data Authorities will also be established to manage which data sets are made public, as well as who can access them. The Australian Bureau of Statistics will provide guidance in this area as the new framework is rolled out.These measures will be complemented by the creation of a new Consumer Data Right which has already been announced by the Turnbull Government.

This measure was also recommended by the Productivity Commission and will give Australians greater control over information businesses hold about them and the services they use.The banking sector will be the first to be overhauled, enabling customers to share their data with third parties to find out where they can get the best deal.