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New South Wales - Community of Statisticians

Future Events 'To Be Announced'

Previous Event

Community of Statisticians’ Event
– GIPA & Open Government:
Implications for Statistical Data

2 September 2010

The Community of Statisticians (Cos) is a collaboration of ABS NSW and NSW government agencies which advocates the development of a community of interest in statistics. The community fosters and reflects the NSS initiative of collaboration by facilitating information sharing, learning, experience and awareness among data analysts and custodians across Federal, State and Local government, as well as the private sector. Twice a year a CoS seminar is held on a theme of relevance, with presentations and discussion panels from both ABS and non-ABS representatives. Past themes have included: Administrative Data Linkage - Developing an Integrated Data Environment; Developing Headline Indicators; and Indigenous Life Expectancy.

The theme of the sixth Cos event was the introduction of the NSW Government Information (Public Access) Act 2009 (GIPA Act) and the implications for data custodians. At the heart of the new legislation, which replaces the Freedom of Information Act 1989 (NSW), is the recognition that people have a right to information. Under the Act, agencies must disclose certain information, known as open access information, unless there is an overriding public interest against disclosure. Generally, open access information must be available on an agency’s website, and at least one method of access must be free of charge.

The seminar was opened by Shirley Southgate, Policy and Good Practice Manager of the Office of the Information Commissioner. The role of the Information Commissioner is to promote public awareness and understanding of the new right to information law, and provide information, support, advice, assistance and training to agencies and the general public. Shirley gave an excellent overview of the Act's intent and how it could impact on the number and nature of requests for information to agencies. In particular Shirley emphasised the value of agencies reporting pro-actively and the need to undergo a mind-shift towards an environment where refusal of an information request was the exception, not the rule.

Kate Harrington and Helen Palmer, Project Managers from the NSW Government Chief Information Office (GCIO), talked with great enthusiasm about unlocking the potential of information in NSW through open access to government information. After a brief overview of the international movement towards open government they discussed how the aims of open government in NSW included the drive to make information holding and sharing processes efficient and sustainable and to ensure that NSW public sector employees are supported by quality information. Kate and Helen then drew the audience's attention to two initiatives of the GCIO: the NSW data catalogue ( which holds publications, spatial information, raw data, audio visual files and web services from agencies across the state; and apps4nsw, a public competition that encouraged the innovative use of government information.

Laura Neill from the NSS Leadership branch presented an introduction to the ABS' Data Quality Online (DQO) tool. The DQO is a user-friendly web-based service which allows data custodians to produce Quality Statements for their datasets based on the ABS Data Quality Framework. The tool enables people who collect and use statistical data to make a comprehensive and multi-dimensional assessment of the data’s quality and fitness for purpose, while the production and publishing of Quality Statements helps them communicate that information to users who can then make informed decisions about the data’s use and re-use.

Don Jones, Assistant Commissioner, NSW Fair Trading, gave some amusing but thought provoking reminders of the potential for misuse of statistics in a regulatory environment. In particular he discussed the risks when people assume that statistics are complete and objective, or try to use fit-for-purpose data for another purpose. Don also warned about the potential risks of releasing de-identified data which is made identifiable via a third party. While GIPA provides legal protection for data custodians this may be outweighed by embarrassment or political damage. Alison Condon, Manager of the NSW Police Information Access and Subpoena Unit talked about the large impact GIPA had had on the number and frequency of requests for information, while Jim Baldwin, Chief Statistician of the same agency, talked about the risks associated with attempting to derive statistical data from a dataset whose purpose is administrative and operational. Tim Raimond, Director, NSW Department of Transport and Infrastructure chaired the discussion panel and gave examples of the issues around open access to government information which has the potential to confer commercial advantage.

Throughout the morning a number of thought-provoking questions were raised and discussed, demonstrating the audience's engagement with the topics. Comments from the evaluation sheets collected showed that the seminar was considered relevant and timely, while the animated conversational groups that formed during morning tea and at the seminar's conclusion is a testament to the networks created and the development of a NSW Community of Statisticians.

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