In Brief | Public Data

Public data is information collected or generated by governments for any purposes including government administration, research, or service delivery. The following resources will introduce you to some key resources on the collection, generation and use of public data in Australia.
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A 2016 IBM research brief estimated that 90% of the data in the world today has been created in the last two years alone, at 2.5 quintillion bytes of data a day, with the EMC Digital Universe study finding that by 2020 the digital universe will contain as many digital bits as there are stars in the universe and that 10% of that data will be from embedded systems. ECM also found that less than 5% of potentially useful data is actually analysed to generate information, build knowledge and inform decision making and action.

Producing and exploiting data through knowledge workers - popularised by Peter Drucker in his 1959 book The Landmarks of Tomorrow - is now seen as the main way to grow the economy. As far back as 2000, the then Trade Minister Mark Vale spoke of the contribution of knowledge-based industries to GDP as being 48% for Australia.

Effective use of public data is  integral to the efficient functioning of today’s knowledge economy. It can facilitate development of new products and services, enhance consumer and business outcomes, better inform decision making and policy development, and facilitate greater efficiency and innovation in the economy. A 2014 Lateral Economics report revealed that ready access to public data in Australia has the potential to generate a value worth up to $25 billion per year, slightly more than 1.5 per cent of its gross domestic product (GDP, chain volume measures) in 2014, and the same reported value of the microblogging site Twitter in 2014.

In December 2015, the Australian Government issued a Public Data Policy Statement which sets out its commitments to public data and which was a key focus of former Prime Minister Turnbull’s National Innovation and Science Agenda (NISA). NISA stated that publishing, linking, and sharing public data is fundamental to making government more citizen-focused, creating new and innovative products and services, and increasing efficiency. At the same time, the Public Sector Data Management Report identified the current status and strategies for improving the use of and access to non-sensitive public data. Implementation of this roadmap has been documented in the July 2016 Public Sector Data Management Implementation Report.

In May 2018, the Australian Government released its response to the Productivity Commission Report on Data Availability and Use. Three reforms were announced in this response: a new Consumer Data Right which gives citizens greater transparency and control over their own data; a National Data Commissioner to implement and oversee a simpler, more efficient data sharing and release framework; and new legislative and governance arrangements to enable better use of data across the economy while ensuring appropriate safeguards are in place to protect sensitive information. Some commentary on these reforms can be found here and here.

Public-private data collaborations can enhance trust and drive innovation in the economy. A 2019 report from the World Economic Forum and McKinsey Data Collaboration for the Common Good explores the factors needed to strengthen trust, balance competing interests and deliver impact. It notes that "the results can be seen in faster decision-making during natural disasters and disease outbreaks, better insights on addressing the complex challenges related to poverty, health and employment and more precise indicators to measure the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals".  

Open data is information that anyone can find, explore and reuse. A vast amount of this data is collected during the course of normal government activities, including service delivery, research or administration. The Mandarin reported in 2017 that in data released by the Global Open Data Index, Australia was a world leader in providing public data.

The 2016 Bureau of Communications Research report Open Government Data and Why It Matters lists some of Australia’s open government data initiatives and projects to date including, Open Data 500 Australia, SODA or Stream of Digital Archives (National Archives of Australia) and GovHack. provides an easy way to find, access and reuse public data. There are currently over 77,000 discoverable datasets  listed on their website. Their website highlights uses of that data including newly available images from the Sentinel-2 satellites and the IP-GOLD combined data sets from IPAustralia which provide essential information on Australia's intellectual property data.

Data visualisation positions words, images, and infographics alongside data to help users understand its significance. In September 2016, IPAA ACT hosted a seminar on the value of data visualisation. The slides from that presentation can be found here

Australia’s National Map is an open resource project centred on providing an improved data infrastructure and visualisation capability for Australians to government data. Another data visualisation tool  is EarthSci a digital globe built by Geoscience Australia for visualising 3D geoscience data, both on and under the surface of the Earth.

Privacy and data security are key concerns for in the move to make public data more accessible and open. The Australian Government’s Public Data Policy Statement (also referred  to above) sets out Australia’s commitments to uphold the highest standards of  data security and privacy. This is further fleshed out in the government’s Cyber Security Strategy. Agency privacy commitments will be articulated in the Privacy Code for the Australian Public Service (currently in development) which will set out the minimum requirements under Australian Privacy Principle 1.2.

Alastair MacGibbon, formerly the Special Adviser to the Prime Minister on Cyber Security,  told a Senate Inquiry into Cybersecurity Compliance that agencies needed to improve their security culture to ward off threats. IPAA hosted Mr MacGibbon to present his reflections on the lessons learned from the eCensus events of 9 August 2016, and the new imperative for Government to embrace cyber security as a core platform for digital transformation. Click here for a video of that presentation and here for his review of the events surrounding the eCensus.


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