Australian government wants local councils to be open about their data

The Turnbull government has pledged to provide incentives to local councils to open up their data, which it believes will help identify urban problems.
Written by Aimee Chanthadavong, Contributor

The Turnbull Coalition government plans to offer incentives to local councils, if re-elected, to be open about their data to improve collaboration with communities, local business, not-for-profits, and research institutes.

Under the federal government's planned launch of a AU$50 million Smart Cities Program, it wants to see local councils be involved in planning, infrastructure, or service initiatives that demonstrate open data, partnerships, the use of technology, and make measurable improvements to people's quality of life.

"Opening up council data and information, business processes, and technologies to third parties creates a platform for identification of urban problems and contestable approaches to their solutions.

"Many technology innovations can be remarkably low cost and unlock significant efficiencies in services, resources and space, and better usability," the Turnbull government outlined in The Coalition's Policy for Smart Cities election policy.

The federal government also committed to establishing an investment fund that will be managed by the Clean Energy Finance Corporation to accelerate the deployment of technology to promote efficiency, clean, and renewable energy.

In addition, the Coalition plans to partner with the NSW government and local councils as part of the City Deal for Western Sydney to drive the building of the Western Sydney Airport, which it has touted as the "most significant piece of infrastructure that will ever be built in the region".

The federal government said it has already paid AU$115 million as part of its first down payment to build Western Sydney airport. The funds are in addition to the federal government's AU$3.6 million contribution it made as part of its Western Sydney Infrastructure Plan for critical road upgrades.

The new airport is expected to create 39,000 new jobs over the next 20 years, the Turnbull government outlined in the election policy.

In a joint statement, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, Minister for the Environment Greg Hunt, and Assistant Minister for Cities and Digital Transformation Angus Taylor said having a collaborative approach to cities will improve people's quality of life and deliver more jobs and growth.

"Australia's cities are home to the majority of our population and responsible for more than 80 percent of national economic output," they said.

"The Turnbull Coalition knows that smart policy, smart investment, and smart technology are critical to secure the prosperity of our cities and a high standard of living for all Australians."

The announcements come after the Australian government recently established a AU$1 billion Clean Energy Innovation Fund, which will see AU$100 million invested every year in Australian clean-energy technologies and businesses.

Earlier this year, the Australian government released a research paper stating open data could boost the economy by between AU$500 million to AU$25 billion.

The federal government instigated a new policy to make non-sensitive data open by default, with the Australian Geocoded National Address File and Administrative Boundaries datasets among the first to be released.

"With the release of the G-NAF, Australia becomes one of only a few countries in the world to make national geocoded address data openly available," Taylor said in February. "Denmark made its geocoded address data open in 2002, and access to this data has been estimated to have added €62 million to the Danish economy in the five years from 2005 to 2009.

"So the opportunities this represents to Australia's economy are significant."

The Australian government's open data policy followed that of the New South Wales government, which made its data open by default in 2013. Its policy, released in November that year, stipulated that government agencies must "start from a position of data openness", except for when there is an "overriding reason" for data not to be released.

Western Australia, Queensland, Tasmania, Victoria, South Australia, and the Australian Capital Territory have also developed open government data policies and practices, with only the Northern Territory left to follow suit.

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