Victorian Data Sharon Bill 2017

I would like to start by congratulating the member for Broadmeadows and thanking him for articulating so well why data and the sharing of data that we already hold is so critical across all spectrums of our lives, but I think, perhaps most importantly, in those areas of very high unemployment and multigenerational poverty, which is an issue that is close to my heart as well. Thank you for your advocacy in that area, member for Broadmeadows.

I am pleased to have a chance to speak on the Victorian Data Sharing Bill 2017. At its heart, the bill before the house is pretty simple. It creates a structure where data held by the government can be used to provide better services for Victorians to make the lives of Victorians better. Analysing this data and looking at it in different ways to discover patterns and insights to inform policy development and delivery will be the work of the Victorian Centre for Data Insights. But a key to being able to draw real insights to inform policy and government processes is having a range of data for analysis, and the bill before the house, the Victorian Data Sharing Bill 2017, will allow a process whereby departments can share data for analysis.

To do this, the bill before us will establish the office of chief data officer; promote the sharing and use of public sector data to make policy and service delivery decisions; make it easier to share identifiable data with the chief data officer or with data analytics bodies, and to facilitate data sharing across the public sector; put in place protections around data sharing by specifying the purposes of data sharing and the circumstances in which the sharing of identifiable data is permitted; and make sure that data handled under the principal act is protected from unauthorised access, use or disclosure. I will be discussing a number of these aspects of the bill during my contribution today.

I think we all want governments to make better decisions, and in so many cases those decisions can be better informed by information that is already held by the Victorian government. However, we first need to make sense of that information through analysis, and a lot can be learned by bringing different sets of data together and subjecting them to that analytical work. The insights we gain through this work can be hugely valuable to better government decision-making. However, it is currently difficult for government departments and agencies to share data. Sharing data under the current arrangements can take a long time to occur and requires the negotiation of data sharing agreements between the agencies and departments who propose to share data. This limits the degree to which our policy and service delivery is currently informed by insight gained through analytics.

The first step to sharing data is to provide agencies with the authority to share data with the chief data officer or with analytics bodies in departments or agencies. This express authority will make it clear to agencies that they are able to share identifiable data and the conditions and circumstances under which that sharing can occur. This bill proposes a request and response regime where the chief data officer will have the power to request data from Victorian government agencies and departments.

For the purpose of data sharing enabled by this bill, there are two categories of government organisations. The first, termed ‘data sharing bodies’, includes departments, agencies and Victoria Police. These bodies will be required to respond to a request from the chief data officer by either providing the requested data or by giving a reason why that data will not be provided. The second category of organisations are ‘designated bodies’, which are organisations like IBAC, the Auditor-General and the courts. These designated bodies may respond to a request for data from the chief data officer by providing the data or providing a reason why data is not being provided, or choosing not to respond to a request. To maintain their independence these designated bodies will not be required to respond to a request but can still participate in a collaborative data sharing exercise if they wish.

However, given some of the data that could be held by designated bodies, I think it is important that they can share data with the chief data officer through this process if they so choose. For instance, the Coroners Court may hold data that, if the court wished to share and allow it to be subject to analytical processes, could inform policy and service delivery in Victoria. The potential benefits of this kind of work are not hard to imagine, and the option to participate has to be available and be subject to their independent judgement.

I now want to touch on issues of confidentiality and secrecy and to briefly discuss the kinds of data that will not be shared. The bill provides departments and agencies, data sharing bodies, with a range of reasons that can be the basis for refusing a request, because there may be very good reasons why an agency does not want to share data with the chief data officer. The bill also defines ‘restricted data’, which is data that the chief data officer cannot request, including information that could identify confidential law enforcement sources, the identity of a person in witness protection, national security information and information on investigative procedures of law enforcement agencies.

To facilitate the transfer of data to the chief data officer, the bill before us, as detailed in the second-reading speech, sets aside secrecy provisions in other legislation when data is being provided to the chief data officer. It is important to note that data provided to the officer is staying within the Victorian government. Importantly, the bill only allows analytical work to be undertaken on data after reasonable steps have been taken to de-identify individuals. Indeed a line from the minister’s second-reading speech bears repeating:

… the government is not interested in profiling individual members of the community, and this bill is specifically tailored to prevent that happening.

Underscoring the importance of maintaining confidentiality around Victorians’ data, the bill creates two new offences for ‘unauthorised access to, use of or disclosure of data or information’. These offences attract heavy penalties — imprisonment for up to five years for a serious offence.

Importantly, the bill provides for independent oversight by the Office of the Victorian Information Commissioner and the Health Complaints Commissioner to which the chief data officer must report annually on the work of the Victorian Centre for Data Insights.

I want to conclude by stating something that I think is incredibly obvious — that is, we live in a complex world. Understanding that world and how we can make the lives of Victorians better through fully informed policy and service delivery is also complex. But we can grow our understanding by making the best use of data that is already held by the Victorian government. We can gain insights into problems facing our community and be better informed when we develop solutions through analysis of government data. The bill before the house promotes this approach and makes it easier for government departments and agencies to collaborate on the use of data. Importantly, the bill also provides for protections and oversight of the work of the Victorian Centre for Data Insights. Someone a lot more famous and a lot smarter than me said:

Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.

I think it is beholden on governments and departments that hold a lot of information to do better and to learn more, to take what we already know and to look at what we have, how we can analyse it and how we can use it to effect practical change that can transform people’s lives. I absolutely support this bill and I commend it to the house.