​State and federal governments look to Australia-wide data sharing

The Australian Digital Council is aiming for a nationally consistent approach to data management and use.
Written by Asha Barbaschow, Contributor

Australian federal, state, and territory governments met on Friday to discuss a nation-wide approach to digital transformation, specifically where data is concerned.

The Australian Digital Council (ADC) discussed how jurisdictions are currently working together, and how they can continue to do so, to take a common approach to designing digital services, specifically through Commonwealth-state data sharing.

One of the outcomes from the ADC meeting in Adelaide was the decision to prepare a report that highlights the current state of data sharing, which state and territory governments will have until early next year to produce.

Ministers also agreed to explore a pilot project between the Commonwealth and Western Australia that shares data on children born with birth defects and the pharmaceuticals prescribed to mothers while pregnant.

"This project would bring data out of government silos to provide opportunities for high impact analysis, which is currently not possible," a statement issued by Australian Minister for Human Services and Digital Transformation Michael Keenan said.

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

Initially, the pilot will combine data held by South Australia, New South Wales, and the federal government, with other jurisdictions able to opt in at a later stage.

While heat over the My Health Record continues, particularly around the federal government's capability to appropriately protect the health data of Australians, the ministers on Friday agreed the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare was "well-positioned" to deliver this work.

Ministers also agreed to work together to aim for a nationally consistent approach to data management and use, including opportunities to share best practice and reduce duplicative data investments.

With a pilot program already running to simplify the registration of newborns, specifically where extensive form-filling is concerned, the trial will be extended to the notification of deaths, with ministers on Friday agreeing to launch the second pilot.

The announcement was met with hesitation from the Queensland government, with the state's Minister for Digital Technology Mick de Brenni warning Keenan against using the ADC to "water down" regulations that keep Australians safe, likening the proposed projects to a "Trojan Horse".

"What we don't want to see from the federal government are Trojan Horse tactics that drag down regulations under the guise of business simplification," he said Friday.

"Queensland sets very high standards when it comes to regulation, and any alignment between states and the federal government should meet these standards, not fall below them.

"A strong national economy is not built by removing important public safety and environmental protections."

In response, Keenan issued a statement later in the day that said the ADC was formed to "promote collaboration" between Australia's governments

"The aim is to ensure all Australians can share equally in the benefits that digital transformation delivers," Keenan wrote. "The Council has no responsibility or say on issues related to workplace safety. To suggest otherwise is simply incorrect."

With Keenan delivering the Commonwealth's Digital Transformation Strategy in late November, de Brenni took the opportunity to comment that members of the ADC were not consulted prior to its release.

De Brenni said issues in the strategy were flagged to ADC members as being up for discussion during Friday's meeting, despite the strategy being released a few weeks prior.

"While the strategy's vision, priorities, and actions are consistent with Queensland government priorities, our shared objectives cannot be achieved without collaboration between federal and state governments," de Brenni continued.

"It's critical that all levels of government work together and collaborate with business, and I'll be seeking a greater level of cooperation with our activities in the future."

Keenan highlighted, however, that Queensland did not consult on the government's Digital Transformation Strategy, despite being invited to do so.

"I have politely advised Minister de Brenni to speak to his bureaucrats who were given several opportunities to engage on the strategy during its production. Those offers were never taken up," Keenan said in response.

The overarching goal of the federal government's strategy is to bring all of its services online by 2025 and to have Australia counted as one of the world's top three digital governments.

The strategy is centred on three main priorities: government that is easy to deal with, which includes offering personalised and integrated services such as through the government-wide adoption of myGovID; government that's informed by citizens, especially in relation to the use of citizen data; and government that's fit for the digital age, which includes expanding digital capability, developing modern infrastructure, and providing accountability.

Accompanying the strategy is a roadmap that breaks down the priorities into over 100 milestones, colour-coded against the three priorities, and organised into years from 2018 through 2020.

On the strategy, ADC members agreed that further consultation with the Australian Building Minister's Forum is required about the issues of secure building management systems and related infrastructure, and on cybersecurity matters.

"Ministers are critically aware that the benefits of digital transformation may not evenly accrue to all parts of the population," the statement issued by Keenan continued.

During the meeting, the South Australian and federal governments separately signed a memorandum of understanding on digital identity, with Keenan saying the agreement paves the way for a nationally consistent and "fully integrated" identity system.


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