House debates

Wednesday, 30 March 2022


Data Availability and Transparency Bill 2020, Data Availability and Transparency (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2020; Second Reading

6:13 pm

Photo of Daniel MulinoDaniel Mulino (Fraser, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

This bill, the Data Availability and Transparency Bill, is designed to facilitate the controlled access to public sector data for specific purposes in the public interest through a legislative framework. That's a rather anodyne statement and potentially one that many would find unobjectionable, but it's also one with potentially significant implications for people's everyday lives, both positive and negative. And that's why this bill is important and that's why, more importantly, it's so important that this government and future governments move in a sensible direction when it comes to government's use of data. This is part of this government's belated response to the Productivity Commission's inquiry into data availability and use.

As earlier speakers on this side have alluded to, there is a significant potential upside if governments can better use data. There are many examples, which I won't run through exhaustively, but one example is new services—qualitatively different services to ones that we're currently seeing. An obvious example of that is on-demand buses, which can make a real difference in people's lives, particularly in regional and outer suburban areas. Another one is individualised services, which can make a huge difference in the efficiency and effectiveness of services like health care and other areas of service delivery, such as aged care and the NDIS.

Another example is the more accurate and efficient use of scarce government resources, particularly natural resources—and this is something explicitly alluded to in this bill—after natural resources. I want to refer very briefly to something that I worked on a long time ago, when I was a state MP, which was a series of bus routes options for a school for children with autism. The use of data in relation to their travel preferences and the optimisation of routes led to a more than 50 per cent reduction in travel time, plus the removal of any need for children to change buses, which had been extremely stressful. That required the use of data in relation to when people wanted to travel, but it was done in such a way that all of the data was protected and it led to a significant improvement in outcomes. So I am not a complete utopian, but I definitely see the potential for a significant upside.

But I do want to talk explicitly about some of the potential downsides, and all of the previous speakers on this side have referred to that. The member for Maribyrnong went through quite a number of them. The use of algorithms is particularly dangerous. It can lead, quite often, to perverse, unexpected and unintended outcomes. One example is the fracturing of people's access to media and information, for example on social media platforms. Another one is algorithms that just get wrong outcomes, and robodebt is a good example of that, although it's a very, very tragic one in terms of its real-life impacts. Another obvious risk is privacy, which a number of speakers have alluded to. That is clearly something which governments will have to be vigilant about in the future. Another risk is outright manipulation, and, again, other speakers have alluded to this. Facebook is an example of where certain political campaigns, or other people or entities trying to change people's views in a range of ways, have manipulated people in ways that are often quite dangerous. So there are clearly pros and cons. The member for Maribyrnong outlined a number of them, and the member for Chifley spoke about the fact that we need to achieve a balance in this area.

This bill is a step forward. It is clearly a belated one, given how long ago it was that the Productivity Commission handed down its report and, as earlier speakers have indicated, given the low likelihood of it even passing. Some troubling aspects of the original bill have been removed, such as the lack of privacy protections and safeguards. The scope of the scheme extending to foreign organisations has been removed, and the scope of the scheme extending to the private sector has been removed. So this bill is a far better bill than was originally proposed, but there is clearly so much more to do. I'm one of the members on this side who would see this as a journey that we are just starting. This is going to be an area of opportunity for government, but it is going to be an area where we have to remain ever vigilant, given the potential for unexpected and very dangerous outcomes.

The 2017 Productivity Commission report, which led to the government's response and to which this bill is a response, did talk about the importance of creating a new right that enables both opportunities for active data use by consumers and fundamental reform of Australian's competition policy, but it also talked about the need for a structure for data sharing and release that is a risk based and that allows for arrangements to be dialled up and down according to different risks. I think that is a very important aspect of any arrangements.

As I said, this bill is a first step in the journey. I've seen firsthand how the smart and careful use of data by government can lead to better outcomes, but we do need to be constantly ensuring that whatever protections are in place are state of the art, fit for purpose and appropriately risk rated, and it is only in that way that we should proceed with expanding the use of data by government.


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