Data sharing guidance issued while agencies wait for new laws

By The Mandarin

Tuesday March 19, 2019

The rules for use and sharing of data by federal agencies have a new complication, with new principles released today by the Morrison government that will join existing privacy legislation and operate as interim guidance without the force of law.

Government agencies are, like the private sector, facing a rapidly evolving landscape around data protection, trust and public expectations that isn’t sufficiently covered by existing legislation. New legislation is being developed, but isn’t expected to be introduced before the federal election in May.

The Office of the National Data Commissioner has been working on interim guidance for federal agencies, released to the public today by federal Human Services and Digital Transformation Minister Michael Keenan.

The Sharing Data Safely guidelines use the internationally-recognised framework Data Sharing Principles:

  1. Projects: Data is shared for an appropriate purpose that delivers a public benefit.
  2. People: The user has the appropriate authority to access the data.
  3. Settings: The environment in which the data is shared minimises the risk of unauthorised use or disclosure.
  4. Data: Appropriate and proportionate protections are applied to the data.
  5. Output: The output from the data sharing arrangement is appropriately safeguarded before any further sharing or release.

Keenan highlighted that the data held by government agencies can enhance public policy and decision-making, while also helping to drive economic growth and development.

“But in order for those benefits to be realised, Australians must have confidence that their privacy and security remains paramount when public sector data is being accessed or shared,” Keenan said in a statement.

“The new guidelines released today will help to deliver that confidence by ensuring a more consistent and comprehensive approach to data sharing across the Australian Public Service.

“The guidelines also recognise that privacy and data use are not mutually exclusive: in fact, we can strengthen privacy by better using and analysing the data we have.”

State and territory governments yet to join Commonwealth’s plans

A consultation paper on the Data Sharing and Release Bill was released in July last year, less than two months before the end of the Turnbull government. As proposed, it will govern federal agencies, and optionally state and territories government bodies if they choose to join.

The proposed bill will enshrine the role of the National Data Commissioner, and authorise data sharing and release for specified purposes, such as informing and assessing government policy and research and development with public benefits. It outlined the “Five Safes” of disclosure risk management, that also constitute the five principles released by Keenan today. It also accredited bodies for handling data: data custodians for collecting and managing data responsibily, accredited data authorities such as the Australian Bureau of Statistics, and trusted users of the shared or released data.

Keenan is retiring at the election and there has been no announcement about which minister will take over this legislation if the Coalition is returned to government.

The Office of the National Data Commissioner is also headed by an interim commissioner, Deborah Anton, with no announcement yet regarding the future appointment for that role either while the legislation is pending.


The editor of The Mandarin, Harley Dennett will facilitate a panel discussion on privacy and consent with Facebook’s associate general counsel on data protection, a privacy lawyer, a government CIO and a business consultant. Wednesday 20 March. 12.30pm – 1.15pm.

Find out more

About the author
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

The essential resource for effective
public sector professionals