The federal government has formed a taskforce to wrangle its response to the Productivity Commission’s report on data use which will investigate privacy settings and whether we are getting bang for buck from the country’s data pipelines.
The Productivity Commission report was released last month, and Assistant Minister to the Prime Minister Angus Taylor announced today that a taskforce would lead the government’s response to the Productivity Commission’s Final Report into Data Availability and Use.
The taskforce will be led by Gemma Van Halderen, a first assistant secretary with Prime Minister and Cabinet who previously spent five years in senior roles at the Australian Bureau of Statistics.
The group goes under the moniker of the Data Availability and Use Taskforce and is made up of representatives from a bunch of departments. These are Prime Minister and Cabinet; Social Services; Human Services; Industry, Innovation and Science; Attorney General’s; Finance; the Australian Bureau of Statistics; the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare; the Digital Transformation Agency; the Public Service Commission; the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner and the ACCC.
The taskforce crew will report to government ‘towards the end of 2017’. According to Mr Taylor, the taskforce will investigate whether we are collecting the right data, have the right privacy settings, are encouraging innovation from our data and whether Government investment in data is delivering the right returns.
The Productivity Commission’s data report was a meaty tome that raised issues that will inform data use in Australia for decades to come.
Among its recommendations, the report suggested the creation of a whole new government office in the form of a Data Custodian to monitor government’s use of and access to data.
It called for a Comprehensive Right to govern consumer data. Under this right, consumers would have perpetual access and use of data held by organisations, could get a copy of their consumer data, could request edits and corrections for reasons of accuracy, be told of trade or disclosure of their data and be able to direct data holders to transfer data to third parties.
There were also recommendations how a new Act could replace all restrictions to access and use contained in existing Federal and State legislation and naming ‘National Interest Datasets’ that would be resourced by the Federal Government Commonwealth as national assets.
Meanwhile there would be ‘Accredited Release Authorities’ to maintain and streamline access to, National Interest Datasets and other datasets.
Mr Taylor appeared to say the government’s eventual response to the Productivity Commission report would be muscular.
“We are not going to miss this chance,” Mr Taylor said in a statement. “Improving the way we use and share data will improve delivery of government services, and deliver greater choice and outcomes for us all.”
The taskforce will seek public feedback as it prepares the response and the government has cranked up a Data Availability and Use website to promote the contents of the report.
The taskforce will likely have a number of contentious data related issues to investigate. The Productivity Commission report was critical of the limited sharing of data in Australia’s health sector and marked Australia as lagging behind many other countries and has missing out on the benefits of better use of health data.
Using performance data from public hospitals to gauge the worth of different treatments for diseases was one area raised in the report.
“Data that allows performance monitoring and comparison of government activities is a fundamental starting point for improving the delivery of those activities to the community,” says the report.
Then there’s the controversial use of government data streams and technology which the taskforce may cast an eye over.
Examples include the controversial robo debt collection program that has won the government few friends in the community and using CSIRO agency Data61 to help out with the equally controversial drug testing of welfare recipients.
Ed Husic, Labor’s shadow for the digital economy, said the Data Task Force was ‘puff dressed up as punch.’
“It makes sense that a government would want to make meaningful data available safely, but the cross-agency Data Taskforce announcement is a classic case of puff dressed as punch,” Mr Husic said.
“Perhaps after making this announcement in the week that the ATO website has gone down again, the Turnbull Government could turn its mind to remedying this,” he said. “Or maybe they could release the first assessments of ICT projects by the Digital Investment Management Office?
“These are the type of meaningful announcements people would be interested in.”