Data economy needs a central plan

James Riley
Editorial Director

Extracting economic value and social benefit from the emerging data economy would require a more centrally coordinated national data plan than is currently in place, says Opposition digital economy spokesman Ed Husic.

While Labor was “keen to work with the government” on policy underpinning the development of a data economy – including on things like the proposed data sharing laws, or the controversial encryption bill – but says that the design of workable frameworks should not be rushed.

Mr Husic said government had been slow to do the policy work on data, despite being handed the Productivity Council’s seminal report on Data Use and Availability in May 2017, and the Open Banking Review last May.

He said consideration needed to be given to striking a balance between privacy and the rights of the data owners on the one hand, and the ability for governments and business to use data to innovate and deliver better and more efficient services on the other.

And certainly there needed to be more attention given to the broader benefits of effective data policy – so that it is measured not just against commercial or economic value, but social benefit and utility as well.

“At a time when you are always under pressure about how you apply resources, being able to do so in a much more pinpoint-accurate way is very important,” Mr Husic said.

“But I have a genuine concern that while the government is playing catch-up here, it is doing so on a deadline that is super-fast, and that it is not getting some of the fundamentals [right],” he said.

The structure of the proposed Consumer Data Right immediately “commodifies data,” he says, rather than gives some breadth to the way that data is used.

He is also concerned that the proposed legislation around the data right gives too much power to the minister to determine how it operates, “with the big decisions would be left to regulation rather than enshrined in the legislation.”

“If you’re going to see the capture of public data and its use – and also being able to marry it up with privately-captured data – and then find a way to apply that to social good …

“The core ingredient that must be applied in the interplay between public and private data is trust, and that is going to take time to build,” Mr Husic said.

A catalogue of events across both the public and private sectors – from data breaches to system outages – that had made people feel like their data was not being respected, and that’s a giant issue.

Responsibility at the federal level currently resides across a large number of departments and agencies, Mr Husic said, noting that the government has recently appointed a National Data Commissioner.

“With no disrespect to that person, we have the ACCC, ASIC, we have the Department of Home Affairs, the DTA, Data61, the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner … There’s a lot of data, and there are also a lot of bodies within government that deal with it,” Mr Husic said.

The response to this fragmentation of the responsibility for data policy can go one of two ways.

“Either we have a national game plan coordinated by one [central] body,” he said, “or you have a well-understood theme or framework or set of objectives that every single body in the public sector follows and delivers.”

“It has to be one of those two things – but the ultimate thing is coordination.”

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