Information 15th June 2017

Open Government vs Productivity Commission on Data Availability and Use

by Kat

Australia’s first Open Government National Action Plan (2016-18) is a series of reforms that include some ambitious commitments, that set the stage for potentially transformative outcomes for citizens. These include “transforming our information access laws, policies and practices are modern and appropriate for the digital information age”, “building public trust around data sharing and release”, and fundamentally changing how we deal with government by ‘“digitally transforming government services”.

In parallel with the development and release of the Open Government National Action Plan, the Government also tasked the Productivity Commission (“the Commission”)“undertake an inquiry into the benefits and costs of options for increasing availability of, and improving the use of, public and private sector data by individuals and organisations.”

Specifically, the Commission was asked to:

  • look at the benefits and costs of making public and private datasets more available
  • examine options for collection, sharing and release of data
  • identify ways consumers can use and benefit from access to data, particularly data about themselves
  • consider how to preserve individual privacy and control over data use.

They started work in March, when Scott Morrison sent them their Terms of Reference. In April 2016, the Commission published an issues paper, had a draft report out by 3 Nov 2016. Commissioners convened public hearings in Sydney and Melbourne in November. People interested to address the Commission were asked to provide a summary of what they intended to speak about beforehand. Industry groups and academic researchers presented their views, and Commissioners asked follow up questions. The Commission then handed over a final report back to Government 31 March, which was then published May 8 2017. Phew!

Their report “offers guidance on where the benefits of greater data use may be most evident, and ways that governments might engage with the public to generate community understanding of the costs, risks, and benefits associated with data sharing and use.”

The full inquiry report comes in at just under 700 pages, and an accompanying overview document of just 77 pages. Still, it’s a long read.

The Australian Government established a cross-portfolio taskforce within the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet (PM&C) in response to the Productivity Commission’s public Inquiry into Data Availability and Use. This Data Availability and Use Taskforce will focus on preparing the Government’s response to the Productivity Commission’s report.

The Data Availability and Use Taskforce then invited Civil Society members of the Open Government Interim Working Group to a roundtable “to assist in digesting the Final Report and start an open discussion on the Productivity Commissioner’s 41 recommendations”. The session, June 6, covered the inquiry into Data availability and use. We were encouraged to comment, based on reference to a 27 slide slidedeck (marked ‘for official use only’), which we hope the contents of are translated to a PM&C microsite shortly. We understand the Commission is running up hundreds of hours in this broad consultation process.  We expect to learn who’s been consulted with when these sessions are completed.

It is clear there are areas of overlap between the Productivity Commission work and Open Government National Action Plan, that have implications for rolling out the Open Government agenda on schedule. There’s also room for Open Government National Action Plan framework to provide a platform, and guidance to build in better transparency, accountability and participation into implementing the Government’s response to the Commission’s recommendations.

Government & Civil Society members of the Interim Working Group, together with Agencies responsible for delivering on the Open Government National Action Plan will find it useful assess how the recommendations of Productivity Commission’s report and the Open Government National Action Plan align. We’ll then be able to determine how the Open Government National Action Plan commitments might inform and/or assist the Taskforce response to the Commission, and vice versa.

Significantly, in the meeting we agreed that the Open Government Partnership secretariat team within PM&C will undertake a high level mapping exercise to identify the following:

  • Where the Commission work overlaps with the commitments in the nation action plan
  • How the Commission’s recommendations potentially support or conflict with delivery of the Open Government National Action Plan commitments
  • How the Government’s Open Government Partnership commitments could better inform and enhance the  Taskforce review of the Commission’s recommendations
  • See what transparency and participation and open government principles should apply to at least those sections of work, or if the scope or nature of the work has changed as a result.

It is immediately obvious that the following Open Government National Action Plan commitments have links with the Commission’s findings:

  • reform commitment 2.1 which aims to “continue to make more public data openly available and support its use to launch commercial and non-profit ventures, conduct research, make data-driven decisions, and solve complex problems.As part of this, we will work with the research, not-for-profit and private sectors to identify the characteristics of high-value public datasets, and to promote innovative use of data to drive social and economic outcomes.”
  • reform commitment 2.2 to build public trust around data sharing and release. “We will do this by actively engaging with the public regarding how open data is being used to better communicate the benefits and understand public concerns, and we will improve privacy risk management capability across government.”
  • Reform commitment 3.1 to ensure our information access laws, policies and practices are modern and appropriate for the digital information age. As part of this, we will consider and consult on options to develop a simpler and more coherent framework for managing and accessing government information that better reflects the digital era.

For example, here’s one specific link: the Government committed to this milestone to be completed by September 2017 in Commitment 2.2 on building public trust around data sharing and release.

Respond to the Productivity Commission’s recommendations on consumer rights and safeguards for data.

Commitment 2.2  then outlines the following related work:

“Data literacy across the APS is also critical. In August 2016, the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet released Data Skills and Capability in the Australian Public Service  to help build skills and knowledge in publishing, linking and sharing public data. The Government will also improve whole of-government de identification processes by releasing guidance on publishing sensitive data.”

However, this responsibility is assigned to  “Accredited Release Authorities (ARAs)” defined in the Productivity Commission Inquiry recommendations. These are currently being considered by the Taskforce. Should the Government act upon the recommendations then these ARAs would undertake this work. Potentially then, we’ll need to renegotiate the due date of August for any such training, or alternatively change the nature of the initial scope of that training.

“The Productivity Commission’s inquiry into data availability and use will also consider privacy safeguards and consumer rights over their data. The Government will respond to the recommendations in the Productivity Commission’s report and continue to work with the public to grow the social licence for data to empower citizens and increase transparency over government activities.”

Even in this straightforward case where the Commission’s work was specifically taken into account when writing the commitment, the Taskforce convened to represent a whole of government response.

Confused? Intrigued? Got questions for the Taskforce? please contact

by Kat Szuminska & James Horton, who attended the roundtable via teleconference. 

Got an hour to spare? Read Kat and James notes from that roundtable.