​NSW government leveraging data to defeat slumlords

The New South Wales government is using state data to crack down on slumlords in Sydney taking advantage of international students needing a place to live.
Written by Asha Barbaschow, Contributor

New South Wales Minister for Innovation and Better Regulation Victor Dominello is embarking on another data-driven initiative, this time tackling slumlords taking advantage of international students.

According to Dominello, Sydney has found itself in a situation where there are landlords offering up living space to students studying abroad, cramming potentially 10 people into a slum-like space that is meant for two.

"The international students wouldn't have a clue about their rights and wouldn't realise that it's just awful," he said.

With knocking on every door in Sydney not a viable option, the minister decided to look towards the data the state already had.

"You can use data analytics in a real clever way," Dominello told ZDNet.

He received data from the Department of Fair Trading on complaints to do with things such as noise, odour, and overcrowding; he also pulled data from local government that mapped out their planning ordinance.

Comparing that information with what is available from utility providers, Dominello said the pieces started falling into place.

"This is supposed to be a two bedroom apartment based on the plan but in a two bedroom apartment the average energy usage is x, how come here it's through the roof," he said.

"It's either that they've got a manufacturing plant in there or we need to ask some questions about this place.

"You start being smart -- you look for the needle in the haystack -- and that is good because that provides a level of protection for people that are vulnerable."

The initiative bounces off another data analytics project Dominello is undertaking near Randwick, southeast of Sydney, where the minister wants to determine who lives where and with whom, by feeding in data such as utility connections and disconnections, and rental bonds. Dominello has said he wants the Big Brother-like project to get down to an update interval of 30 minutes.

Both projects fall under the scope of the newly created NSW Data Analytics Centre (DAC).

Dominello first announced the state's plans to create the DAC in August last year, saying at the time that data is one of the greatest assets held by government, but when it is buried away in bureaucracy, it is of little value.

Since then, Dominello has introduced a bill that requires each of the agencies and state-owned amenities to give his department their data within 14 days; appointed an advisory board charged with overseeing how the state government uses that data; and announced the addition of a chief information and digital officer to drive the government's digital agenda.

Earlier this year, Dominello announced he would be unveiling the state's first innovation agenda, bouncing off what Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull produced at a federal level.

Dominello had previously been tight-lipped on the specifics of the agenda, saying only that the policy will have a key focus on data analytics and how to utilise it to cut state costs.

The minister confirmed the policy is on its way.

"We're waiting for it to go through cabinet," he said. "It's not just my agency, it's right across government and hopefully we'll be making an announcement before the end of the year.

If it was just me, I could do it [now]."

Dominello said that although the state government is already pushing the boundaries, it has nothing compared with the pace with which business is operating, calling government the "ugliest thing in the marketplace".

"Unfortunately, government tends to be rigid and rock-like and hard to move but that's because we're big and slow," he said.

"I'd like to see government working much closer and much quicker with the private sector, with the NGOs, with the thought leaders at the universities -- they've got some brilliant ideas.

"If I can find a way -- and hopefully this will be part of the strategy moving forward -- of bringing that idea and then disrupting government in the way we do things to better services for the people of the state, that will be a massive win for the people."

Last week, Dominello announced the state government would be launching a beta version of Fuel Check this week, a smartphone app updating Sydney's petrol prices in real-time.

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