National information policy

National Information Policy

The explosive growth in digitisation and connectivity in Australia has created an opportunity for a new, economy-wide productivity agenda. Today, digital data – information - is the fuel for digital innovation and productivity growth across the public, private and community sectors.

Today, the Internet of Things and cheaper telemetry means we now have unprecedented volumes of data. This data can be aggregated and pooled, helping to maximise benefits for consumers.

The Internet of Things refers to the little objects or “things” in everyday devices – like our watches, smartphones and cars as well as planes, trains, roads, buildings, electricity networks – which are connected to the internet and can be used to collect data to improve use and lower costs for consumers.

Technology consultancy, Gartner estimates that there will be 4.9 billion connected devices in use by the end of 2015 – and 26 billion by 2020. This data is the fuel of digital innovation and productivity growth across the public, private and community sectors. That is why it is important the right policy settings to protect consumers, create new business opportunities, promote innovation and lift productivity.

At all times, there needs to be a framework to ensure that personal data remains secure and safe.

Consumers will be at the centre of Labor’s policy. With the benefits that flow from the radical change in the nature of data, so too come new risks. Our data is much more valuable today and the consequences of it being misused – through incompetence or malevolence - are so much greater. There are many in the community who are uncomfortable about the fact that there is much more information being generated that even if it is not sensitive, personal information on its face, could become so when linked to other information. The problem is that at present, policy makers are not thinking about these new risks in a joined up way or working with consumers and the community to develop dynamic, robust ways to manage these risks. 

The oceans of data will only enable innovation and productivity growth if they can be ‘opened’ up for use and analysis whilst building and maintaining public confidence. GE estimates that today, only 3 per cent of potentially useful data is even collected in a way that enables it to be analysed.

Open data innovation can be a major driver of economic growth:

Open data that is legally and practically able to be accessed and de-identified for reuse, has a network effect. The more people that are able to access de-identified data, and the more data sets that it is able to be combined with, the greater its overall value. Yet today, where data is collected at all, it is largely stored away in silos with regulations, organisational policies and culture shielding it from use by others.

Instead of pursuing these opportunities, under this Liberal Government, Australia has fallen three positions to 10th in World Wide Web Foundation’s Open Data Barometer Rankings.

To change this, better to optimise data flows, and promote further analysis in Australia, a Shorten Labor Government will:

  1. Pursue a new, national reform agenda - National Information Policy - to be pursued through a cross-sector Independent Data Council.

    The Independent Data Council would be modelled on the New Zealand ‘Data Futures Partnership’ and the UK ‘Open Data Institute’ and would include experts from government, academia and the private sector. It would be tasked with promoting an optimal open data culture in Australia supported by appropriate rules and institutions.

    A National Information Policy would follow the model of the Keating Government’s National Competition Policy and systematically scan institutions (public, private and community), policies and regulations to identify obstacles to optimal data generation, protection, access and use.

    The National Information Policy reform agenda will cover multiple fronts, over an extended period of time, while also delivering short term dividends to maintain momentum for reform. It could potentially pursue issues like:

    • A comprehensive audit of existing government data sets;
    • Access to government data for public good research;
    • A review of existing public sector data generation policies (eg ‘Smart Infrastructure’ telemetry standards for public infrastructure);
    • A detailed review of the impact of existing laws on data utility;
    • Data generation mandates (eg Building Information Models);
    • 'Internet of Things’ standardisation and certification;
    • Personal Information Management Systems (PIMS).

  2. Establish an Integrated Data Infrastructure (IDI) modelled on the data platform in operation in New Zealand that combines anonymised information from a range of organisations (eg health, education, crime data) to offer insights to policy makers and researchers.

    An IDI is not just a portal that makes data sets accessible, it is a platform that allows different data sets to be integrated and new insights to be drawn for policy evaluation and research.

    The New Zealand IDI currently includes economic, education, justice, health and safety, migration, tenancy, tax and business data. All data IDI is anonymised and unique identifiers are encrypted.

  3. Identify open data Catalyst projects in strategic priority areas that could be championed by the Independent Data Council for early wins.

    A comprehensive National Information Policy would be a substantial, multi-year policy agenda and would require policy work throughout the data life cycle across multiple sectors and levels of government.

    To maintain momentum for reform during this process, projects that offer particular potential for early dividends will be identified by the Independent Data Council as ‘catalyst projects’ that would be prioritised for rapid development.

  4. Establish a National Centre for Data Analytics which would act as a central source of data-analysis expertise for the federal government, providing expert support to its departments and agencies. The centre would sit within Digital Transformation Office. 

The Opportunity

The McKinsey Global Institute has estimated that there are more than US $3 trillion in potential global benefits from the use of open data in education, transport, consumer products, electricity, oil and gas, health care and consumer finance worldwide.

A Lateral Economics/Omidyar Network analysis commissioned for the 2014 G20 suggested that more vigorous open data policies could add at least AU$16 billion per annum to the Australian economy.

These potential benefits come in two main forms:

1.  Better Quality Decision Making Through ‘Big Data’ Analytics

Advances in machine learning and algorithmic analysis mean that we can now gain new understandings from extremely large data sets. Potential benefits include:

  • Smart Infrastructure - Increased utilisation of existing resources and infrastructure through better understanding of use patterns;
  • Smart Cities - Reduced operational costs through more efficient and targeted maintenance programs;
  • Smart Government -More efficient capital investment and resource allocation decisions for future infrastructure needs;
  • Real time performance measurement and data feedback loops to enable continual assessment of policy effectiveness and service delivery improvement.

Researchers in New Zealand have already used its IDI to undertake dozens of studies on issues ranging from educational completion outcomes, child poverty, marital separation outcomes, migration patterns.

Big Data analysis also lies at the heart of an extraordinary range of cutting edge scientific research – from the study of the Galaxy through the Square Kilometre Array (partly hosted in WA, to personalised medicine through genomic medicine.

2.  Innovation and Productivity Growth

Digitisation and connectivity also allows latent data sets to be transformed into productivity enhancing services for others. We don’t just have a street directory containing mapping data any more – we can combine mapping data sets with GPS data and the telemetry devices in our smart phones (accelerometers) in an app that gives us turn by turn directions. With every data set that’s added, the value of the application– adds data about traffic congestion, the service stations and the app becomes more useful. The disparate data sets underlying the app are combined and transformed into a highly valuable service.

Developing a world leading data access and governance environment in Australia would significantly add to the nation’s research capacity and increase the nation’s attractiveness as an investment destination, including for technology startup investment and talent. It could be a beacon for the businesses that will create the jobs of the future. 

Labor’s record

Labor was a trailblazer for data policy in Australia. Indeed, the Cutler Report prepared in response to the previous Labor Government’s Review of the National Innovation System made the following recommendation:  

Along with the rise in support for access to information has come a growing recognition of the need for users to be able to search and interact with data and content. Legal frameworks must also be developed to facilitate access and reuse. This points to the need for an Australian National Information Policy (or Strategy) that optimizes the generation and flow of ideas and information in the Australian economy. As the National Competition Policy (NCP) involved systematically scanning Australian institutions to optimize the operation of competition to enhance outcomes so National Information Policy would scan Australian institutions to optimize the generation and dissemination of information for social and economic benefit.

Through the Gov 2.0 Taskforce Labor laid much of the groundwork for Australia’s current data infrastructure (eg

  • Similarly, the Open Government Partnership Steering Committee was forced to write to Australia about its ‘particularly concerning’ lack of progress in pursuing its OGP commitments (entered into by the previous Labor government).
  • Even now, Australia’s OGP consultation document includes references to the importance of the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner– a body that the Coalition government still seeks to abolish and has largely defunded.

Financial Implications

Labor’s policy has been independently costed by the Parliamentary Budget Office to cost $8.5 million over the current forward estimate period.

Funding for this policy will be offset from existing announcements Labor has made in making sure multinational companies pay their fair share of tax in Australia, reducing superannuation tax concessions and abolishing the Emissions Reduction Fund.


Standardisation - One major current obstacle to the generation of open data is an absence of standardisation, particularly with respect to data generated by IoT telemetry. For example, the value of data collected through building maintenance telemetry will be greater if all builders were collecting data in the same way across their buildings. Communications Alliance is currently seeking this kind of standardisation and certification for IoT telemetry. 

Governments can support the emergence of standards by supporting awareness initiatives, providing a regulatory and policy environment that gives data generators long-term confidence and participating in domestic and international standard setting bodies

Data Generation Mandates - A straightforward way to increase the generation of data is to mandate the collection and sharing of strategically important data sets as open data.

The UK and Singapore Governments are already pursuing processes to mandate the sharing of Building Information Models (BIMS) Data (essentially standardised geospatial engineering data about infrastructure) as Open Data as part of regulatory approval processes.

Similarly, many funders of academic research now mandate that the underlying data supporting research is made available as open data (eg the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the US National Science Foundation).

Open access to data for public benefit research - All too often access to government data for public good research is hamstrung by antiquated systems of data ownership. Research into projects like modelling how changes to social security payments will affect the most vulnerable, research that can look at the lifetime impact of economic shocks on Australian society, research to work out how – empirically –our health and education dollars ought to be spent.

Government should assist researchers by facilitating practical access to data for researchers as a key pillar of the National Information Policy reform agenda. The Independent Data Council would identify legislative and regulatory changes required to ensure that while a citizen’s personal records remain confidential, de-identified data is made available to researchers as a right, not a privilege.

Smart Infrastructure / Government Strategy - Data generation could also be improved by creating a framework determining the circumstances in which the roll out of telemetry in publicly funded services and public infrastructure projects (‘Smart Infrastructure’) could similarly be productively mandated.

The Australian Department of Communications has cited research that models the potential economic impact of smart infrastructure as $11.1 trillion by 2025. The benefits are particularly important for transport and logistics. Enhanced traffic management systems reliant on Internet of Things data could play a major role in fighting congestion costs that are estimated to be $53 billion each year in Australia by 2031.

Singapore’s Smart Nation Initiative intends to connect ‘everyone to everything, everywhere, all the time’ in the island state. It intends to use sensors to collect information, then use co-ordinated data sharing and analysis to comprehend it, and to make this information and analysis available to citizens, policy-makers and business. If the data generated from the roll out of telemetry in public infrastructure projects and strategic data collection mandates were combined on an integrated data platform, Australia could create a valuable central data resource on Australia’s public infrastructure and spaces.

Public-Private Partnerships for the collection of data - Where government is a major funder of services, there is a significant potential to establish public–private partnerships to actively generate data of strategic importance within established data governance frameworks.

Community Data - One result of the collapse in the cost of internet connected sensors (telemetry) is that many community members are generating data about their communities, and especially their environments themselves. Creating a platform to aggregate this cheap, community generated data could also be an innovative part of a National Information Policy.

Tasmania’s Sense-T project integrates data from public and private environmental and agricultural sensors around Tasmania on a platform that allows it to be reused and transformed for use in mobile applications and other online services. This community-collected data has proved to be of significant value to the local viticulture, aquaculture and agriculture industries.

The US Environmental Protection Agency has created an online platform that allows members of the public to install sensors in their communities and to contribute environmental data about their neighbourhood to inform the regulator’s enforcement action. We should create similar mechanisms for the collection and sharing of community data in our own neighbourhoods.

Audit of Public Data Holdings - At the most basic level, a National Information Policy should open up existing government data sets. Geospatial data, environmental data, statistical data, public registers, government-property inventories, land-use data: all of this is collected by government as a matter of course, but is also of enormous value to people in the community and to business. Thanks to the hard work of many individuals, Australia has made more progress opening up this data than many other countries (available through the website), but there is still substantial work to be done.

An audit of all data currently collected by government departments, agencies, regulators accompanied by an institutional framework to enable individuals/organisations to nominate datasets to be opened up and for these requests to be reviewed by a specialist agency would open up many more valuable data sets.

Personal Information Management Systems (PIMS) - Personal Information Management Services (PIMS) are legal frameworks that allow citizens to make an informed decision about sharing the personal data they create through interactions with both the public and private sectors with other parties. There is an enormous volume of information about individuals already being collected by businesses and governments, but at present this information is trapped within silos in these organisations and is often not even able to be practically accessed by the individuals to which it relates.

PIMS enable individuals to control the collection and use of their personal information by both government and private organisations. They require data collectors to provide each individual with access to their data in a portable, open format that can be used by third parties if the person allows it. These third parties could solicit individuals’ information in exchange for the provision of other services. And individuals could donate their data to researchers trying to solve important public-interest problems.

The UK Government has attempted the implementation PIMS with the support of private companies like Google, Royal Bank of Scotland, British Gas and Visa through its Midata project, but progress in implementing the framework has been slow

For a PDF copy of this fact sheet click here.