Australian government to open up geocoded national address data

By February next year, the previously commercially available National Address File will be available for free.

The Australian Geocoded National Address File (G-NAF) and Administrative Boundaries datasets will be openly available from February next year following on from the Australian Government Public Data Policy Statement [PDF] released yesterday.

Under the policy statement, Australian government entities will make non-sensitive data open by default; where possible, create "free, easy to use, high quality and reliable" application programming interfaces; ensure that data is enduring and updated frequently; where possible, make non-sensitive publicly funded research data available for use and reuse; only charge for specialised data services; and, where possible, publish resulting data by default.

Government entities will also, by default, publish "appropriately anonymised" government data through data.gov.au that is in a machine-readable, spatially-enabled format and licenced under a Creative Commons By Attribution licence, unless the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet can make a case for another open licence.

Working with state and territory counterparts, the federal government announced yesterday the opening of its Geocoded National Address File, which was previously only available to commercial customers.

"The G-NAF will be provided as a Pipe Separated Value (psv) file and the Administrative Boundaries dataset will be provided as an ESRI Shapefile file," Helen Owens, Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet principal adviser for public data said yesterday. "Updated versions of these datasets will be published on a quarterly basis."

"Access to spatial data is becoming increasingly important given the rapid take-up and use of mobile devices in Australia."

As someone who proposed the freeing up of G-NAF over two years ago, Zac Spitzer, solution architect at Better Managed Contracts told ZDNet that while he is happy for the announcement, the move should have happened much earlier.

"It's been such road block to building spatially enabled apps, especially for smaller projects which didn't have the budget for licensing the dataset or paying for commercial geocoding services," he said. "But this release should have happened last decade, thus Australia missed the chance to foster growth in this area."

"We also still need to see all the major spatial datasets freely available, cadastre, roads, transport, water etc."

Spitzer said that offering a free geocoding webservice would have "really liberated" the data, and allowed developers to perform ad hoc lookups to update their data -- a service he could have made use of years ago.

"Shapefiles are still alas the lowest common denominator and you can't mix geometry types and having to parsing text files is very 1990s," he said. "I'd like to see binary formats, such as SqlLite/SpatialLite or PostGIS dumps which can be just picked up and used without requiring processing or loading which is a barrier to entry.

"Have they given any thought about a streamlined process for accepting updates and corrections?"

Spitzer said he believes many people are using Google-licensed services for current geospatial projects, and the impact of the G-NAF release may not be as dramatic as it might have been

"But I'm liking the general direction; however, the speed of change is neither agile nor disruptive."

The Australian government yesterday released its AU$1.1 billion National Innovation and Science Agenda, which covered 25 measures focusing on culture and capital, collaboration, talent and skills, and government as an example.

Data61, the result of a merger between the digital productivity arm of the CSIRO with National ICT Australia (NICTA), will receive AU$75 million to use data analytics to connect disparate government datasets and publicly release them; improve industry cybersecurity and develop new architectures; build a Data Research Network to link businesses with data researchers; and deliver data analytics training to improve data literacy in Australian businesses.

"Australia's economic potential in the global economy will be strongly affected by the data revolution that will occur over the next five to 20 years," Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science Christopher Pyne said in a speech today. "We have to respond to this."

"Our government departments and organisations hold an extraordinary amount of unique data, data that has great potential for the creation of new and innovative products and business models by the private sector."

Shadow Parliamentary Secretary For Digital Innovation and Startups, Ed Husic said on Sky yesterday that while it was good to have a 10-year timeframe on funding, it was not restoring all the funding cut in recent Budgets.

"It ain't anywhere near what they cut; in terms of restoring it, they've still got a long way to go," he said. "It's a good thing, for example, that they're restoring some funding to NICTA through Data 61. But again, what they've announced previously is only half of what they cut.

"Innovation, in terms of the cycles, they go up and down -- the test for us is not where we are at the peak of enthusiasm in terms of innovation, the test is not do you support at the peak -- the test is when there are pressures and when you see the natural decline in interest in innovation whether we hold on to that investment, commitment, the support into the longer term and that's why I reckon it's good having a ten-year timeframe to try and stick to."