Government kicks off AU$15m pilot using data on Australians living with disability

The latest initiative from Minister for Government Services and the NDIS Stuart Robert.
Written by Asha Barbaschow, Contributor

A group representing the interests of Australia's state, territory, and federal governments has agreed to establish a National Disability Data Asset, which will compile data on those in the country living with disability.

The Australian Data and Digital Council, chaired by Minister for Government Services Stuart Robert, on Friday agreed to the initiative as the council believes it can pave the way for a federation-wide view of the lived experience of Australians with disability.

A pilot of the Disability Data Asset will initially compile data from the Commonwealth, New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, and South Australia.

The pilot will receive up to AU$15 million in federal government funding, with part of the money to be used by government to explain why they think the initiative is a great idea to the people whose data will be used.

Must read: Consent removed from Australia's proposed data-sharing legislation

As the minister responsible for the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS), Robert also chairs the Disability Reform Council, which will also be engaged in this initiative.

"The National Disability Data Asset will give government the insights it needs to better understand and address the challenges facing Australians with disability irrespective of their location," Robert said.

"I am proud to lead the national effort to deliver better outcomes for all Australians with disability and today's partnership is a key part of that endeavour. It is a clear example of the benefits of using data to provide better outcomes for those Australians that need it most."

As Minister for Government Services, Robert is also the minister responsible for Centrelink.

Speaking at Parliament in July, Robert held firm that the data-matching project -- colloquially known as "robo-debt" -- undertaken on behalf of Centrelink formed part of the government's legal responsibility.

At the time, Robert warned Australians in receipt of welfare that they needed to ensure they provided the same information to Centrelink and the ATO.

"Can I say to all citizens who are receiving income support, or indeed family assistance payments regularly, update through either the myGov application, through a telephone service, or through a service centre, update the assessment of your income because when your tax return is returned, they will be matched," he said.

"They'll be checked and if there is any discrepancy at all, we have a legal obligation to contact the citizen concerned and seek to explain the deficit."

His comments were made in response to former Labor Leader and now Shadow Minister for Government Services Bill Shorten and his successor Anthony Albanese who had asked whether Robert could provide any advice for a mother who was confronted by her disabled son's debt after his death.

See also: Shorten likens 'robo-debt' to the logic and ethics of a mob standover

Alongside the announcement that it would collect data on people with disability, the council also agreed on a new national approach towards government services.

"This outcome-oriented approach will help governments deliver customer-focused solutions, removing complexity for citizens," the statement from Robert said.

"In those important moments when Australians reach out for government services, like when they give birth or are looking for a job, they expect a simple and seamless interaction. It is encouraging to see national agreement to put ourselves in the shoes of our citizens when it comes to improving service delivery -- I am confident this new focus on 'life events' will help government deliver the experience Australians expect and deserve."

Robert, who in October was found to have spent 20 times more than other MPs on his home internet -- clocking up more than AU$2,000 a month and blaming "connectivity issues" for the high costs -- assumed responsibility for government service delivery in late May, following machinery of government changes that were made by Prime Minister Scott Morrison after his election win. 

Robert was this week detailed as being owed at least AU$410,000 following his investment in a failed health company headed by a convicted rapist.

The Australian Data and Digital Council was stood up in early August, replacing the Australian Digital Council (ADC), which was focused on a nation-wide approach to digital transformation, specifically where data was concerned.

In December, the ADC members had agreed to a pilot project between the Commonwealth and Western Australia that shared data on children born with birth defects and the pharmaceuticals prescribed to mothers while pregnant.

This was also accompanied by ADC members agreeing to build a "longitudinal and enduring cross-jurisdictional data asset" that would improve services for those with disability.


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