Public sector data sharing laws pass parliament with Labor changes

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Public sector data sharing laws pass parliament with Labor changes

Privacy protections added, while restrictions imposed on corporations.

Laws that make it easier for government agencies to share data with each other and universities have passed parliament after the opposition secured changes to address privacy concerns.

The Data Availability and Transparency Bill was finally signed off by the Senate on Wednesday night after clearing the House of Representatives with amendments earlier in the day.

It ends an almost four-year journey that began when the Office of the Data Commissioner first began consulting on the reforms following a Productivity Commission report in mid-2018.

The bill, which was introduced to parliament back in 2020, creates an optional pathway for agencies to share data for the purposes of service delivery, to inform policy, and research and development.

The pathway will allow agencies to override some 500 provisions in 175 pieces of existing legislation, though existing mechanisms and arrangements for sharing will also continue to be available.

Shadow government services minister Bill Shorten worked with the government for more than a year to secure the amendments after Labor senators denounced the bill, labelling it “deeply flawed”.

“In short, legislatively speaking, Labor was presented with a Ford Edsel – with a lemon,” Shorten told parliament on Wednesday.

“We’ve switched the engines, we’ve beaten the panels and we’ve touch up the duco. With our improvements, well, if it’s not a Maserati then at least it’s a solid Toyota Corolla.”

He described the previous incarnation of the bill as “poorly designed, with all the bad trappings of something that had been through a rushed design process”, despite two years of consultation.

Major problems included a “lack of safeguards” and the “scope” of the scheme, which had proposed “opening public data to foreign, non-Australia organisations”, as well as to private corporations.

The amendments following “painstaking negotiations” address these concerns, with the bill now to be limited to government agencies and the universities.

Foreign entities are also now barred from becoming accredited under the data sharing scheme, while re-identification of data that has been de-identified is also now prohibited.

“I believe the most troubling aspects of the original bill have now been mitigated,” Shorten told parliament.

“In its new form, the bill now essentially removes some of the barriers to data sharing between state and federal government and Australian universities for specified purposes and with the approval of the data commissioner.”

Employment minister Stuart Robert, who has carriage of the government’s digital agenda, said the legislation is “critical... for Australia to become a leading digital economy and data-driven society by 2030."

“This legislation takes a significant step forward towards data-driven innovation across the economy, a step towards a future where policy decisions are enriched by strong data and government services are simple, helpful, respectful and transparent,” he said.

Greens MP Adam Bandt, United Australia Party MP Craig Kelly, Liberal MP George Christensen and independent MP Andrew Wilkie voted against the bill in the House of Representatives.

In the Senate, all nine Greens senators and independent senator Rex Patrick opposed the bill.

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