Legislation outlining a new data-sharing regime within the Victorian government with the aim of improving policy-making has been introduced to Parliament.
The Victorian Data Sharing Bill 2017 aims to enable the sharing of data more easily between departments and agencies, while also outlining the privacy and security safeguards that would be in place.
“Government collects vast quantities of data – education and health, communities, business, employment, infrastructure and environment,” Victorian special minister of state Gavin Jennings said.
“However, for too long government data has been held in agency silos and not available across government to tackle many of the pressing community concerns.”
The bill would break down silos by creating a “clear legal framework” for data to be shared internally for policy-making, service planning and design, and enabling agencies to work more collaboratively.
“We’re breaking down government silos, removing red tape and addressing other barriers to sharing data, so that we can improve services for hard-working Victorians,” Mr Jennings said.
“Victorians want us to use every tool at our disposal to make their lives better, boost jobs and keep them safe – this includes the vast amount of data and information that we hold across government.”
The also establishes a state Chief Data Officer, who also serves as director of the Victorian Centre for Data Insights, a unit sitting within the Department of Premier and Cabinet that was launched earlier this year. The Centre for Data Insights follows in the footsteps of the NSW government’s highly-successful Data Analytics Centre, or DAC.
The Chief Data Officer position – which was filled earlier this year with the appointment of former Telstra big data chief Julian Hebden – and plans for streamlined sharing of data sharing within government, were key elements of the state government’s ICT Strategy in early 2016.
Mr Hebden’s role is focused using data integration and analytics to better inform decision-making and policy design, along with coordinating cross-jurisdictional data and collaborating with agencies.
The bill was introduced to Victorian Consumer Affairs Minister Marlene Kairouz.
“Data is fundamental to delivering better services and outcomes for Victorians,” Ms Kairouz said in Parliament last week.
“Government collects vast quantities of data in serving the needs of Victorians – about education and health, our communities, business, employment, infrastructure and the environment.
“The value of this data is in what we do with it, how we use it and who can use it.”
“By enabling it to be shared and used, we can harness its true value – generating insights that help us make the most informed policy decisions and design the most effective services,” Ms Kairouz said.
The new scheme would allow the CDO to make a formal request to a department or agency for data for the purpose of “informing government policy making, service planning and design”.
The CDO would have to provide a written notice, specifying the reason for the request, what the data is and how it would be used.
The CDO would also have the ability to request information about the type and amount of data that an agency or department holds, and how accurate it is.
Data could be requested from state departments, the Victoria Police and other public sector bodies, which would be required to respond within 10 days, either with the data or a reason for not providing it.
Data could also be requested from bodies like commissions, oversight bodies, local councils and courts, but these organisations are not required to respond by law.
The legislation outlines a number of reasons why this data sharing might be rejected, including client legal privilege, contract, order of a court, or that it would prejudice an investigation.
New South Wales and South Adelaide already have similar data-sharing legislation in place for the use of policy-making, but the Victorian framework takes this further by allowing for the sharing of identifiable data.
The bill overrides previous privacy laws, allowing for identifiable data to be shared with a “limited group of public sector staff”.
The government has said this data would not be shared outside of the private sector, while any analysing of the data must be done after “reasonable steps” have been taken to ensure it does not identify an individual.
The state government concedes that the new regime puts a limitation on privacy rights, as no consent from individuals is required.
“I consider that the limitation is reasonable and justifiable because of the safeguards that are in place to protect an individual’s privacy, and the benefits of government service-improvement associated with sharing this information,” Ms Kairouz said in Parliament.
The Victorian Data Sharing Bill 2017 also imposes strong sanctions on the misuse of the new data sharing laws, with up to two years in jail for accessing the data for reasons other than the ones listed, and up to five years imprisonment if the person “knows or is reckless as to whether it will be used for more dangerous things”.
Victoria’s privacy regulators will have independent oversight over the scheme, and potential breaches of data would be mandatory to report.
Mr Jennings said the bill includes enough safeguards to protect this data.
“This bill gets the balance right between the need to share data and important safeguards for privacy and security of information,” he said.