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Australia’s Lessons in Promoting Open Government
Source: http://www.futuregov.asia
Source Date: Wednesday, November 27, 2013
Focus: Electronic and Mobile Government
Country: Australia
Created: Dec 03, 2013

Technology is changing the way governments think, and one of the most crucial areas of change is in information management. How do governments leverage these technologies to improve information management and ultimately promote open, transparent governance?

FutureGov spoke to Professor John McMillan, Australian Information Commissioner, on how the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC) is leveraging Big Data and promoting open government, to bring new opportunities to Government information management.

“What is really driving the cultural change in government nowadays is technology. It is transforming the way we collect, use, share, store and protect information. Technology opens up new threats but also wonderful new opportunities for information management.”

"Good privacy is good business"

“The laws that we administer — the Freedom of Information and Privacy Acts — were created in a world of hard copy records. But today’s world of digital records completely changes the agenda. You realise that you can extract extraordinary value from assembling all the data. Particularly with Big Data, there are enormous resources we can consolidate, and better analyse and evaluate,” Professor McMillan said.

With the increasing volume of government-held data, privacy is gaining even greater importance: “A high proportion of the data connects in someway to individual, personal information. This is at the heart of the data collected by tax, health, immigration offices,” he remarks.

“So while you’re rolling out an information sharing strategy, you also need to use technology more effectively to filter out the personal information and reassure the public that their data is secured.”

The OAIC strongly advocates the principle that “good privacy is good business” — it is very much in the interest of both government and industry to have strong privacy practices, Professor McMillan says.

“Agencies also have immense security and privacy worries about data integration when sharing with other agencies. One of the challenges we have is encouraging information sharing while ensuring that those concerns are addressed.”

A coherent national plan for open government

Professor McMillan adds that while drawing value from Big Data is in the interest of government, the value of the data is fully realised if it is made available to others in the community.

Australia announced in May this year that it is joining the global Open Government Partnership (OGP), something the OAIC has strongly advocated. Australia has already achieved a great deal in open government, including a strong FOI Act, the Declaration of Open Government, commitment to the Gov2.0 strategy, and strong laws on declaration of interests and integrity of government.

“While the OGP allows us to showcase our strong tradition in open government, it also provides an opportunity to identify gaps and challenges ahead,” Professor McMillan notes.

The next step for Australia is to create a national action plan for open government: “This will be a valuable opportunity to bring all the different strands into one coherent national plan. The plan has to be developed in consultation with the community, industry and all levels of government,” he says.

Professor McMillan believes that strong leadership is crucial for Australia to move forward with the OGP: “Australia has not kept pace with some of the other countries in the world. There’ve been quite significant leaps forward in UK, Canada and US. Those big changes have been led by their national leaders. We’re strongly pushing that effective information policy requires strong leadership.”

Professor McMillan emphasises the need to work actively with the large number of other agencies to develop a coherent national action plan for open government and information policy. At the same time, the OAIC is also working to ensure that the privacy reforms are successfully operational in March 2014.

“An enormous number of things are happening in Australia. There’s tremendous innovation, and commitment to the digital age and information management. These efforts need to be brought together under a coherent plan, particularly a plan that involves both the state and the national governments,” Professor McMillan says.

Professor McMillan will be speaking at FutureGov Summit Australia in Canberra on 2-3 December 2013 on re-thinking the government’s role with open data.

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