[@OKau] Follow up to the last year's discussion about open data & state jurisdictions

Rosie Williams BudgetAus at hotmail.com
Fri Mar 4 03:09:51 UTC 2016

This post is a follow up of issues explored last year among various groups interested in social issues commonly dealt with by state agencies.


Last year the question came up about the relevance of state government to the open data necessary to work with many of the important social problems faced by Australian society. If you were part of the discussion<https://openaus.net.au/blog/2015/11/05/moving-things-forward-addressing-the-information-gaps/> last year, with issues like homelessness and violence against women on the agenda, it was noted that these types of issues are often thought to come under the purview of the states.

Comprehensive open data availability is one of the major issues facing re-users of open data. With open data policies and practices varying from jurisdiction to jurisdiction having the same data available across the board and with similar fields is of particular significance to social questions that rely on this data for a solution.

This week, my research saw me take a foray into state-federal funding arrangements and what I learned has direct influence on the issues raised last year.

To date almost all of my work with budget transparency has been based on the federal budget<https://openaus.net.au/budget/index.php>. This is primarily due to national interest in the Commonwealth budget but also because the states are only just now beginning to release their budgets as open data<https://www.data.vic.gov.au/data/dataset?q=budget>. Most of what I have understood about government funding in Australia has looked at the issue through the eyes of the federal budget.

I’ve long wondered just how big or small, by comparison,  state budgets are. It was only this past week or so, when I was asked to assess the quality of open budget data published by the Victorian government that I began researching this question. What I found surprised me somewhat.

The states are not backwards in coming forwards about how much of their budget comes not from their own revenue raising activities, but from the federal government. This is because the Commonwealth government took over the right to raise revenue during times of national crisis (wartime) and left the states with very limited legal ways they can raise revenue. Gives a whole new perspective really to why it is that states are so addicted to sources of revenue based around individual consumption (eg gambling/GST) ie because they are prohibited from other forms of revenue raising. Coupled with the policy goals placed on states by the federal government it becomes easy to see how the states might feel like the meat in the sandwich.

It’s all laid out in this fascinating journey<http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/journals/SCULawRw/2006/4.pdf> through the history of Australian fed-state relations and recounted in the reports produced by various state governments on their relationship with the Feds. According to the Commonwealth government<http://www.peo.gov.au/learning/closer-look/governing-australia/changes-in-the-federal-and-state-relationship.html>, at least half of state budgets are supplied by the Commonwealth. Far from being their own fiefdoms, quite a bit of funding the states receive is received through National Partnership Agreements<http://www.federalfinancialrelations.gov.au/content/npa/health_reform.aspx> which require the state governments to collect National Minimum Datasets<http://www.federalfinancialrelations.gov.au/content/national_minimum_data_sets.aspx> in the process of meeting agreed indicators (many based interestingly enough on SEIFA data).

These agreements cover just the kind of social challenges (domestic violence, health, housing, Indigenous welfare) that are commonly identified as in want of more open, comprehensive and better quality data to address. Prior to looking into state-federal funding, I had assumed data collection issues on these topics would come under the jurisdiction of individual state governments.

These Partnership instruments would appear to contradict this assumption. It would appear that the Commonwealth has discretionary powers in deciding what data is collected and what happens to it from there, whether it is made open according to theCommonwealth open data policy<http://www.dpmc.gov.au/pmc/publication/australian-government-public-data-policy-statement> or can only be accessed by specific organisations or at a cost.

My research has taken me full circle. It would appear we are back to the Commonwealth government in terms of seeking open data for the social issues we wish to be better equipped to solve. COAG<http://www.coag.gov.au/> and its Treaties Council<https://www.coag.gov.au/treaties_council>  would appear to be relevant processes which can oversee the implementation of the changes the community would like to see in the collection of open data for the issues under discussion given that the Open Government Partnership is a multilateral agreement that has implications for the states which can be pursued through the Treaties Council.

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