New guidelines for sharing data between public service departments would not allow data to be shared for compliance or assurance activities, but experts are waiting to see the strength of the legislation.
Minister for Government Services Stuart Robert is moving to implement a new framework governing the sharing of and release of government data, an area that has been labelled a factor in the creation of government silos restricting collaboration.
While the discussion paper released ahead of legislation expected next year emphasises sharing data would become the norm, there would be limits on how the data could be shared.
"A much larger part of the journey is changing the Australian public service culture to achieve the paradigm shift from 'need to know' to 'responsibility to share' where there is clear public benefit," it said.
Sharing of data between public service agencies for compliance purposes has been controversial since the Liberal government ramped up online compliance against people who had received Centrelink payments, by matching their earnings as reported to the Tax Office with fortnightly earnings reported to receive welfare.
Matching data sets between agencies for compliance wouldn't be allowed under the legislation being developed, but would still be allowed under other legislation, like a recent amendment to the Crimes Act to share data to prevent fraud.
The new legislation would also block sharing of data for national security and law enforcement, a move which is supported by the national intelligence bodies, the paper said.
Assistant Professor at the University of Canberra Bruce Arnold said promises and forecasts are "meaningless" until the actual legislation is written.
"The fundamental problem with privacy law in Australia is it starts out rigorous and drip by drip it's eroded ... it ends up full of holes, it's Swiss cheese.
"You'd want to see the legislation to start off with and you'd want a strong commitment the protection would stay in place."
Dr Arnold has been involved in the consultation process, and while he is positive about the direction it's going in, said there are still issues around resourcing and culture for the Data Commissioner.
He also believes the discussion paper "side-steps" the issue of consent around how the public's data is used, especially considering the history of anonymised datasets being found to still identify individuals.
There is also concern within the privacy and health communities about the potential for the data to be commercialised, Dr Arnold said. While the strategy is to be commended, data sharing needs to be properly managed, he said.
Sharing data for research, developing policy and for service delivery would be allowed under the new legislation, with an aim to have forms partly pre-filled by data provided to another government organisation, similar to processes already in place for tax returns with myTax.