Federal and state governments will work on a new intergovernmental agreement on data-sharing, as plans to greatly increase the sharing of public sector-held information continue.
The intergovernmental agreement, which is yet to be produced, will build on the federal government’s new data-sharing scheme for data held by Commonwealth agencies and departments, which is currently the subject of a senate inquiry.
A number of civil and digital rights, legal and medical organisations are urging the government to make a number of major changes to this scheme due to privacy and security concerns.
The federal government has now signalled its intent to expand this data-sharing play to the state and territory governments, and to link up the reporting of life events so this can be done through either myGov or a state-based service delivery platform.
At a National Cabinet meeting last week, the First Ministers agreed to work on an intergovernmental agreement on the matter.
“National Cabinet agreed that jurisdictions will work together to capitalise on the value of public data to achieve better outcomes for Australians,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison said.
“In order to achieve this, First Ministers committed to develop an intergovernmental agreement which will be considered at a future National Cabinet meeting.”
The Coalition’s Data Transparency and Availability Act, which was introduced to Parliament late last year, will offer a “new path” for the sharing of data between public sector agencies and private organisations, getting around current secrecy provisions and other laws blocking this.
With the planned intergovernmental agreement, the federal government is now attempting to expand this scheme to state and territory governments too.
There have been widespread concerns about this new data-sharing scheme, including around the significant privacy implications, the sharing of identifiable information and the potential for consent to not always be required.
In a submission to the senate inquiry, the NSW Council for Civil Liberties warned of the “enormous consequences” to individual privacy from the plan, and that it is “fundamentally flawed and violates community expectations” and “threatens to further erode” individual privacy.
The Australian Medical Association has also raised significant concerns about the data-sharing scheme, particularly around the sharing of highly sensitive medical information, potentially with private health insurance firms. Australia’s privacy watchdog has also urged the government to reverse its plan to exempt any information sent under the scheme from from Freedom of Information requests.
The senate committee is expected to report on the data-sharing legislation by 29 April, with the bill to likely be debated in Parliament in late May.
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