Federal, state govts confirm data-sharing ‘by default’ agreement

Federal, state govts confirm data-sharing ‘by default’ agreement

Australia’s federal, state and territory leaders have signed off on a national agreement to improve data-sharing processes and practices between jurisdictions, with a view to enhancing policy outcomes and service delivery across the two major tiers of government.

On Friday, National Cabinet signed off on the Intergovernmental Agreement on Data Sharing (IGA), authorising a plan first announced in April that lays the groundwork for joined-up government services in the future.

“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,” said Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

The IGA will see the Federal and state governments commit their “best endeavours to share data” between jurisdictions to improve citizen outcomes – provided appropriate safeguards are enacted around information privacy and security.

Building on current efforts by data and digital ministers, the new agreement is intended to support targeted emergency and recovery measures during the pandemic.

Data and digital ministers, in consultation with portfolio ministers, are currently finalising a work program to determine national data-sharing priorities that will form the Government’s immediate focus.

“Access to data is critical for policy, service delivery and government decision making,” the IGA read. “Data held by one government can be valuable to another government in delivering its activities.”

Reasons for sharing data in the public interest, the agreement states, include informing policy decisions, designing, delivering and evaluating programs, tracking implementation, and improving service delivery outcomes.

Meanwhile, the types of data in the scope of the IGA include routine administrative data, statistics and reference data (including metadata), and data supporting existing intergovernmental agreements.

Other types of data listed are de-identified and identifiable data “for emergencies”, such as disasters or hazards where response and recovery are paramount, as well as for data integration projects and cohort needs analysis.

The IGA further covers both legitimate reasons to decline a data request – for instance, where sharing would: “contravene a law, contractual obligation or right; prejudice an investigation, inquiry or legal proceeding; or would be likely to endanger an individual’s health, safety or wellbeing”.

Requests for data can also be refused for a number of reasons, including if it is already available through another source, it does not exist in shareable form, the proposed sharing arrangement goes against Data Sharing Principles, or sharing is not ethical (despite proposed public interest).

Data Sharing Principles defined in the IGA, and based on the internationally recognised Five Safes Framework for risk management, include:

  • Project: data is shared for an appropriate purpose that delivers a public benefit.
  • People: the user has the appropriate authority to access the data.
  • Settings: the environment in which the data is shared minimises the risk of unauthorised use or disclosure.
  • Data: Appropriate and proportionate protections are applied to the data.
  • Outputs: the output from the data-sharing arrangement is appropriately safeguarded before further sharing or release.

Finally, while federal, state and territory leaders “intend to comply” with all the IGA’s provisions, no legal relations are intended to materialise between government agencies stemming from the agreement.

“The Agreement should be read in conjunction with, and does not override or supersede, all relevant and related legislative obligations, agreements, frameworks and policies,” it read.