Committee for Economic Development of Australia Speech

Release Date: 
4 July 2018
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Thank you for your warm welcome Melinda (Cilento). It is a pleasure to be here with you today to discuss how the Government is shaping Australia’s digital future by introducing some of the biggest reforms to the way we manage and use data in the nation’s history.

I want to talk about the potential of data and tackle head on the increasing perception that somehow this is a dirty word.

It seems like every other day we hear on the news about a data breach or about private data inadvertently ending up in the wrong hands.

Incidents like the recent Cambridge Analytica scandal help explain why data, at least in the eyes of the general public, is perceived as something bad or something to be feared.

If we allow this negative perception to become entrenched then Australia may miss out on everything that new advances in technology can offer us.

The reality is that data is the fuel that is powering our new digital economy.

Just as steam was the innovation that sparked the second industrial revolution, data is what’s driving the fourth industrial revolution.

I’ve even heard data described recently as the new oil and I think that is a very good way to think about it.

It’s a vast resource that we can and must seek to tap into in order to drive enormous economic and social benefits for all Australians.

I am not dismissing what are entirely legitimate concerns about data security and the need to respect individual privacy.

That must be central to everything we do as a Government as we seek to harness the power of data as a force for good.

Equally important though is the need to start reframing the public conversation around data.

We need to stop thinking about it as a four letter word.

Most of the data the Government holds is neither personal or sensitive.

As an example, think of the terabytes of data that agencies like the weather bureau now generate from things like remote sensors at weather stations.

The Airbus A380 has about ten thousand sensors in each wing, all gathering data about the plane’s performance.

The Internet of things is also generating huge masses of data as machines talk to other machines around the globe.

It reminds me of an interesting statistic I heard recently that the data generated globally in just the last two years alone is equivalent to all the data generated in the entire history of the world.

To go back to the oil analogy, you can’t just leave a resource like that sitting in the ground.

Lateral Economics have estimated the value of government data could be worth as much as $25 billion per year to the Australian economy.

Part of the reason data is so valuable is its ubiquitous nature – it can be used and reused again and again for a variety of social, economic and commercial purposes.

For business, data creates value through providing insights into customers, enabling the development of tailored products and services, and driving efficiencies within the organisation.

For government, data enables us to design more targeted policies, provide connected online services and empower citizens to make informed decisions.

This not only means better, faster, cheaper services for citizens but significant savings for governments through less wasteful spending.

That’s why your Government is pursuing an ambitious agenda to unlock the value of data.

As part of the Budget, I announced a new package of data reforms based on findings by the Productivity Commission.

These reforms represent a significant change in the way government will manage, share and use data in the years ahead.

And I am pleased today to tell you about the progress we have made to implement this important work. 

The Turnbull Government has always had a strong commitment to this agenda – releasing the Public Data Policy Statement back in 2015.

So far we’ve made significant progress on our commitment to make more data openly available. There are now more than 25,000 datasets discoverable on our open data portal – a substantial increase from around 500 datasets just five years ago.

Globally, Australia consistently ranks amongst the leaders in open data and is currently ranked second in the world on the Global Open Data Index.

Across all sectors – from health to industry and the environment – we are harnessing data and digital technology to create better policies for all Australians.

In health, we are using big data to identify where patients experience harmful effects after taking some medicines, or from taking some combinations of medicines. Some of these adverse events can be life-threatening, such as heart failure or stroke.

Usually, adverse events are identified through clinical trials or patient registries, but this can be a slow process.

It can’t cover all medical combinations and potential interactions which means the impact of medications can be missed.

Using funding under our Data Integration Partnership for Australia program, the Department of Health confirmed 122 medicines already known to be associated with heart failure. Critically, they identified five medicines that were not previously known to be associated with heart failure.

We can now work with doctors to change prescription guidelines to minimise adverse events, enhance patient safety and avoid the costs of hospitalisation and treatment.

This has the potential to save lives.

Data is also integral to the effective delivery of digital services.

Recently I announced the Government’s intention to release a new Digital Transformation Strategy.

The Strategy will provide a pathway for Australia to become one of the top three digital governments in the world by 2025.

Data will be a key pillar of this Strategy – that is because the automated and tailored services citizens expect cannot be delivered without data.

Most of you would be familiar with the myTax system. In fact, 98 per cent of all individual income tax returns are now lodged electronically.

Having access to pre-filled data from employers, banks and government agencies not only makes this process quicker and easier for individuals come tax time, but also helps to reduce errors in reporting.

It’s also making government’s job easier - with 95 percent of these individual tax returns assessed and processed without the need for human intervention.

This means our public servants can focus on complex, value‑adding tasks – rather than standard assessments.

In my own portfolio, Medicare’s digital claiming channels have become the core mechanism for claim lodgement, assessment and payment.

A digital-based service delivery model is now the norm, with 98 per cent of all Medicare claims (or approximately 40 million claims a month) now made digitally.

Today, claims lodged at the doctors can be paid into your bank account within 48 hours, or you can lodge your claim online and see the benefit processed within 2-3 days.

This is a dramatic shift from the slower face-to-face and paper-based delivery model of only a decade ago.

With advancements in predictive analytics, we can also take pre-emptive action to help government make better decisions.

The Bureau of Meteorology’s Smoke and Air Quality Forecast System helps agencies plan for control burns by predicting how the smoke from burns will affect the population through reduced air quality and visibility.

Through the use of this system, Fire Management Agencies in Victoria and the ACT are able to make data-driven decisions regarding the date and location of controlled burns, and provide timely and more targeted precautionary advice to communities.

Data can also help citizen’s understand their obligations and prevent inadvertently misleading the government about their circumstances.

My Department of Human Services has recently partnered with Woolworths to trial automated income reporting.

Currently, individuals have to input their fortnightly payments manually, and failing to do so or doing it incorrectly can result in a requirement to re-pay Centrelink.

During this trial, employee payroll information needed to calculate welfare payments was automatically given to Centrelink.

Not only did this remove the requirement for customers to manually report but also improved the accuracy of information

While we have much to celebrate regarding the way we are using data, there is still so much more we could and should be doing.

The reality in Australia is that our complex and confusing rules and regulations around data have prevented us from fully harnessing its value.

This is exactly the message that the Productivity Commission concluded following their extensive inquiry into Australia’s data system.

The final review found that unnecessary barriers to data access were stifling innovation and preventing important research opportunities from being realised.

The Productivity Commission identified more than 500 different secrecy provisions and regulations that exist within Australian law that regulate government agencies’ use and release of data.

For instance, the National Health Act 1953 generally prohibits divulging any information collected about people unless authorised by a Minister.

The penalty for breaching this section is either a $5000 fine, two years imprisonment, or both.

This complexity has resulted in agencies developing a default position of saying “no” to requests for data access, even when the information is not sensitive, or has been properly de-identified to protect individual privacy.

Valuable data that could help drive innovation and growth is being locked away, often for no good reason.

That is why on 1 May I was pleased to announce the Australian Government’s $65 million investment to improve data access and use, and strengthen safeguards around our data system.

This comprehensive package of reforms includes:

  • introducing new legislation to improve the sharing, use and reuse of public sector data,
  • establishing a National Data Commissioner,
  • establishing a new National Data Advisory Council, and
  • creating a new Consumer Data Right.

These reforms will allow us to share more data more efficiently, while protecting citizens through better risk management and coordination of our data system.

We are delivering on all of these commitments and I am excited to tell you about progress we have made since my announcement in May.  

Commonwealth Data Sharing and Release Act

The creation of a new Commonwealth Data Sharing and Release Act will provide a simpler, more efficient framework to govern data across the whole-of-Government.

This framework will allow public sector data to be used as a force for good by unlocking the value it holds, while continuing to protect the privacy and security of individuals.

It’s absolutely critical that we get this balance right.

The intent of the legislation is to harness the opportunities provided by data, without compromising our civil liberties.

Government cannot do this alone. We need input from citizens, businesses, data custodians and data users to ensure we get the balance right and the legislation reflect society’s expectation.  

Today, I am releasing an issues paper on the development of the Data Sharing and Release Act.

The paper outlines our thinking on the scope of the new legislation and the five key principles we propose will underpin the new Act:

Firstly, we must promote better sharing of public sector data.

A core principle of the legislation will be to promote better sharing of public sector data not just within government, but with other trusted users across the whole of society. 

Building on the Australian Government Public Data Policy Statement, the new legislation will seek to optimise the use and re-use of public sector data to remove barriers to data sharing and use, and increase the social and economic benefits for all Australians.

Secondly, we must build trust in the use of public sector data.

Transparency and accountability will be at the core of the new legislation and will allow for data sharing agreements to be publicly available to maintain proper oversight.

The new legislation will also interact with the existing legislation like the Privacy Act to ensure that privacy and security is maintained. We will also have accountability in the system to ensure that data is used for the right purposes, but also to allow greatest social and economic benefits to be derived.

Thirdly, we must be able to dial up or down appropriate safeguards.

As I said earlier, much of the Commonwealth’s data is not personal or sensitive, yet current arrangements often prevent it from being shared.

The new legislation will provide a multi-dimensional approach to managing risk. The internationally recognised Five Safes framework: Safe data, safe people, safe settings, safe outputs and safe projects, will mean appropriate controls can be put on the way data is accessed and used.

As a result we will have greater flexibility in terms of facilitating data access. This recognises that there is not a one-size fits all approach to data sharing.

Next, we must maintain the integrity of the data system.

The new legislation will set out the National Data Commissioner’s oversight and regulation of the framework. Through a series of enforcement powers, the Commissioner will be able to drive cultural change across the public service towards better use and reuse of data.

The Commissioner will also report on the health of the data system and be able to audit agencies to make sure the rules that keep data safe are being enforced.

And finally, we must establish institutional arrangements.

The legislation will establish the functions and powers provided to the National Data Commissioner.

The Commissioner will be supported with technical advice from the Australian Bureau of Statistics as well as an expert group – the National Data Advisory Council.

These principles work together to deliver a balanced framework – which will move the culture from one which restricts access to data to one which authorises sharing and release when appropriate data safeguards are in place.

Importantly, there will be consequences for those who seek to use data for improper purposes. Strong penalties for intentional misuse of data will apply.

As I said, we are keen to hear your views on the legislation with this consultation being the first of many opportunities to input into its development.

The issues paper is available online at the new National Data Commissioner website, with submissions closing on 1 August.

National Data Commisioner

Another key element of our data reform package is the creation of the Office of the National Data Commissioner.

The Commissioner will implement the data sharing and release framework and be a trusted, public figure to talk about the government’s use of data with the community.

The relationship between the Commissioner and the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner will be critical to ensuring the success of these reforms.

An interim National Data Commissioner will be appointed to help establish the office and lay the groundwork for the ongoing role.

I will be announcing the appointment of the Commissioner very shortly.

National Data Advisory Council

To support the National Data Commissioner, a National Data Advisory Council will be established to provide advice on ethical data use, technical best practice, and the latest industry and international developments.

The Council will comprise experts, including from the community, business and research sectors, and organisations focusing on privacy advocacy. The Council will include both government and non-government experts.

I am keen to ensure that the Council provides opportunities to a wide range of stakeholders to be part of our data future.

With this in mind, today, I am opening up an expression-of-interest process for people to apply to be part of the council.

Members will have two-year terms and can apply either as a representative of an organisation or in an individual capacity.

Anyone interested should go to the National Data Commissioner website and submit an expression of interest by 20 July.       

Consumer Data Right

These reforms are not just about making data more accessible but about giving power back to citizens through increased transparency and choice over their information.

The Treasurer is leading work to establish a new Consumer Data Right to give citizens a safe way to direct data holders to share data with trusted and accredited third parties.

The Consumer Data Right will encourage competition by enabling consumers to share information about their transaction history and behaviour to get the best deal for them. 

We will commence with the banking sector, followed by the energy and telecommunication sectors. The Right will then be rolled out economy-wide on a sector-by-sector basis.

Done properly this will result in greater competition and cheaper electricity, cheaper phone bills and cheaper mortgages for many of us.


Improving Australia’s use of data represents arguably the single best opportunity we have to substantially enhance national productivity.

Failure to grab this opportunity will see Australia fall behind in the never ending race for global competitiveness.

As we seek to take advantage of the fourth industrial revolution, we will also ensure that data is being used in a safe and transparent manner so people can have the confidence that their privacy and security is protected.

We are committed to engaging with the community as we roll out these reforms, and draw on expertise both here in Australia and overseas.

I encourage you all to seize this opportunity and look forward to working with you to get our data system right.

Thank you.