Federal, state and territory leaders have signed off on an intergovernmental agreement aimed at making more data available across all jurisdictions for policy development and service delivery.
National cabinet agreed to the intergovernmental agreement (IGA) on data sharing on Friday, formalising a plan that was first endorsed in April, in part to lay the foundations for linked-up government services.
“The IGA gives effect to national cabinet’s commitment to share data across jurisdictions as a default position, where it can be done safely, securely and lawfully,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison said.
“The work program will be finalised by data and digital ministers in consultation with portfolio ministers.”
The agreement, which comes into effect immediately, will see governments “use best endeavours to share data between jurisdictions” for recognised purposes, granted privacy standards are met.
It builds on efforts to date to share health and travel-related data between states in support of the pandemic response.
The framework will sit alongside the federal government’s Data Availability and Transparency (DAT) Bill, which remains before federal parliament more than seven months after it was introduced.
The bill plans to streamline data sharing between governments and the private sector, but faces stiff opposition from Labor, as well as from Australia’s privacy watchdog and the Australian Medical Association.
Much like the DAT Bill, the IGA expects data will be shared for the purposes of informing policy; designing, delivering and evaluating programs; tracking implementation; or improving service delivery.
“Nationally significant data sharing priorities” will be the immediate focus of the framework, with data and digital ministers to ultimately decide which initiatives make up the forward work program.
“Access to data is critical for policy, service delivery and government decision making. Data held by one government can be valuable to another government in delivering its activities,” the IGA states.
“Responsibly, securely and seamlessly sharing data between governments is an efficient use of resources and will help drive economic value, innovation, improve services and deliver better outcomes for Australians.
Data types covered by the framework are wide-ranging, including de-identified and aggregate administrative data, identifiable data “shared with customer consent” and statistics and reference data.
Both de-identified and identifiable data relating to emergencies and other natural disasters and data integration projects or cohort needs analysis also falls within scope.
Governments will be able to decline a data request on legal grounds, including where the sharing could contravene a law, contractual obligation, or prejudice an investigation or legal proceedings.
Other grounds for refusal include instances where releasing the data could endanger an individual’s health and safety data or where sharing is inappropriate or fails to meet data-sharing principles.
The agreement suggests, however, that the reasons are “not exhaustive and parties may consider other sensitivities or obligations that prevent data from being shared”.
The agreement is also “not intended to create legal relations between the parties” and does not override existing legislative obligations, agreements, frameworks and policies.