Queensland is pushing forward in making its government data open to the public, with assistant minister to the Premier, Ray Stevens, planning to introduce legislation next year that will cement this for the long term.
Speaking at the G20 ICT Industry Forum in Brisbane today, Stevens said legislation is needed in order to ensure that the open data initiative does not die down and continues to stay firmly entrenched in government practices.
“It’s very difficult for government… to change existing laws. Once we put open data and the ownership of all datasets out there as part of law in Queensland, it would take a very bold government from any political persuasion to change that law. That will mean the open data commitment will continue, [regardless of who’s] the current government.
“That’s an enormous step forward and absolutely consistent with our determination to be the most open and accountable government but also to provide all the datasets that are necessary for the business community to utilise data for economic benefits for the state of Queensland, for community groups to use that data for the better delivery of services.
“What governments have done in previous attempts have said ‘Here’s a load of information, we’ll dump that out, wash our hands and go to the bathroom with it”.
It’s not like that at all, we’re ongoing here. And the timeliness of the datasets will be improved upon as we move forward in the whole program,” he said.
When it comes to the cost of an ongoing open data initiative, Stevens said if investment needs to be made for the collection and accessibility of more datasets, then departments would need to have “proven good reason” that show extra datasets can provide better outcomes in order to receive support.
Stevens admitted there are still some issues to properly wade through when it comes to making an open data initiative works, such as privacy and licensing issues.
He said data that can be de-anonymised, relates to national security and commercial in confidence is exempt from the open data initiative. He said privacy is taken very seriously by the Queensland government and is top priority, but even with well-thought-out risk prevention measures, mistakes can still occur.
“We’ve got to be very careful we don’t ruin the lives of our public out there by the release of wrong information, and careful with the way we use it. But we are not chastising or bringing down our public servants who are to be encouraged at all stages.
“For many, many years there’s been this ‘sticker’ approach to open data in terms of if someone drops some information out that wasn’t appropriate or the political masters at the time felt it wasn’t appropriate they would get in a lot of trouble, and might have lost their jobs.
"So they went back into their shell, tucked their heads into their shell and basically weren’t so keen to join in making all their datasets open to the public.
“It’s my job to change that culture and ensure them that they will not be chastised or set back by putting out their open data, and it’s my job to convince their ministers of that,” he said.
The licensing of the data before it gets released to the public will also need to be assessed so government doesn’t run into any issues later on, Stevens said. “With some of the datasets they don’t even know where they were collected.”
Agencies will need to apply clear licences to their data, and preferably release the data under open licences such as Creative Commons.
A Queensland government spokesperson said thorough consultation would take place before legislation is introduced, and will incorporate business, researchers, non-government organisations, the community and other governments.
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