Speech to the Locate 15 Conference: The Power of Open Data

March 11, 2015
Ministerial Feed

Thank you Gary Nairn, it is a pleasure to be here for Locate15 and I thank the Spatial Industries Business Association (SIBA), the Survey and Spatial Sciences Institute (SSSI) and the Geospatial Information and Technology Association (GITA) for organising this important event.

It is fantastic to see the industry working together to deliver this annual conference.

Opening remarks

Today I want to talk to you about the importance of making data openly available to enable innovation.

It is fitting that Locate15 is being held in Queensland’s capital, Brisbane, as Queensland has shown great leadership in the areas of open data and innovation 

The development of the Queensland Globe, a world-first application enabling the public to access the State’s datasets and satellite imagery is one example. 

Building on the success of the Queensland Globe, the State Government and the Queensland University of Technology have formed a dynamic and powerful partnership that has led to the creation of the Cube Globe.

At nearly two storeys tall, the Cube Globe is the world’s largest digital interactive installation and was used during the G20 Summit late last year – allowing delegates and visitors to interact with and explore statistics, case studies and other spatial information about Queensland[1].

Queensland is also home to Australia’s first Open Data Institute, which has been established to link all sectors of the economy and nurture an open data culture and capability.

Research institutions, industry and academia have partnered with the Institute to realise the opportunities presented by open data - to drive economic, social and environmental prosperity[2].

Last August, I spoke at the GovHack red carpet awards night, which was hosted here in Brisbane. 

One of the local Brisbane teams - AussieMon - built an online game based on Pokemon, but which uses Australian animals and in the process educates young people about them.  Another team built an app for Google glass so that when you put on the glasses, you see your surrounds as they were 100 years ago, using historic photos and materials sourced from various government agencies[3].

As I said on that night, there are few things I find more inspiring than watching a group of young coders - some of them barely old enough to be in high school - working on the next app or program that will improve peoples’ lives.  

The most scarce resource in the digital age is not access to capital or technology itself. The scarcest resource is imagination - disruptive, insurgent, radical imagination.

And that is why events like this are so important.  It does take cultural change - particularly from governments - to harness the ideas and the creativity that you see in those young hackers I met at GovHack. 

The future is not something we should seek to 'proof' ourselves against - change and uncertainty are things that we should embrace. We must be open to new challenges and, most importantly, we must be flexible and agile, treating volatility as an opportunity not a threat.

Role of government

Governments have an important role to play in driving innovation across the economy.

Of course we must get the fundamentals right to ensure that all levers, be they taxation or investment in research, education and infrastructure, are pulling in the same direction.

To capitalise on the opportunities of innovation and productivity, we must continue to build our knowledge and proficiency in science, technology, engineering and maths to compete in an increasingly competitive, globalised and trade-exposed world.

But we must also lead by example – to get in there and innovate ourselves by delivering our services online in a compelling and engaging way.

If we are serious about promoting the benefits of digital innovation, as a government we need to improve the quality and availability of our own services.

This includes opening up and releasing government data that would otherwise only be collecting dust in digital cupboards.

Digital Transformation Office

That is why the Prime Minister and I recently announced that we will be establishing a Digital Transformation Office (DTO) - to improve the quality and availability of government services and to ensure that all major services can be completed digitally from start to finish by 2017.

There really is no reason why the quality of government services like applying for a tax file number or renewing a passport should be any different to Internet banking on your phone or tablet, for example. 

So the DTO really is all about not only improving the availability of digital services but also designing services that are of such high quality that users actually seek them out.  And of course data will play an important role in the service delivery transformation, particularly spatial data and analysis which will be used to deliver better targeted services to users.

Open data agenda

We have very ambitious targets when it comes to our open data agenda. 

We need to begin with the assumption that spatially referenced data collected by or for the public sector is a public good[4].

I am sure many of you are aware of the 2014 report by Lateral Economics which suggests that “more vigorous open data policies could add around $16 billion per annum to the Australian economy”[5].

Governments hold an extraordinary amount of unique data, collected directly and indirectly in the course of doing our job. It is there. We have it.

But there is no point in keeping all that data stored away. It needs to be accessed, analysed, understood, used and reused. 

Since the Government was elected, the number of datasets available on data.gov.au has increased from 514 to more than 5200: a tenfold increase. 

Approximately 70 per cent of these open datasets are spatial[6]

But the Government’s open data focus is not just about opening more and more datasets.

It is also about opening high-value datasets - those that are sought after by the developer community.

Efforts to realise the open data agenda

As outlined in our election commitment, we need a deeper consultation with the private sector and community organisations to identify public datasets that are not currently published on data.gov.au 

We have made some progress with the addition of a ‘Request Data’ function on the data.gov.au website.

But there’s more we can do. I am very pleased to announce today the launch of the Open Data 500 Australia initiative. 

This collaboration between the Australian Government and GovLab, a team of researchers at New York University, will produce a landmark study of the Australian open government data.

Open Data 500 will be a comprehensive survey that will look at Australian companies that use public datasets to generate new business, develop new products and services or create social value.

The study will provide a basis for assessing the social and economic value of open government datasets and identify the types of data most valuable to businesses.

Similar studies have been undertaken in the US and Mexico. 

Open Data 500 advances the government’s policy of increasing the number of high value public datasets in Australia in an effort to drive productivity and innovation, as well as its commitment to greater consultation with private sector stakeholders on open data. 

This study will help ensure the focus of government is on the publication of high-value datasets, with an emphasis on quality rather than quantity. 

It will:

●      provide a basis for assessing the economic value of using open government data; and

●      identify ways businesses can reduce costs associated with the licencing, versioning, control, storage and maintenance of data.

I strongly encourage Australian companies using open data as a business or operation resource to take part in the Open Data 500 study. Information on how to participate can be found at www.opendata500.com/au

The Australian Government’s Open Data Network and the NationalMap

This builds on our existing initiatives including the Open Data Network which is an initiative that the government has used to deliver the substantial increase of open data and functionality currently available through data.gov.au.

The Open Data Network, put simply, is a range of measures that make the data.gov.au site easier to use, both for agencies and end-users.

It provides centralised search and display layers that enable agencies to focus on data release and quality, rather than focussing on building new presentation platforms.

The inclusion of open government data from all levels of Australian government provides for the first time a demonstration of how seamless open data exploitation can be achieved.

The platform is now entirely open-source, meaning it is easy for anyone in the private sector to take that information and exploit it.

Geocoded address data

At last years’ Locate Conference I talked about our efforts to make quality geocoded address data openly available for use under open data terms.

Access to national geocoded address data is still limited and in my view this is curtailing Australia’s private and public sectors in their business processes and decision-making 

My department is continuing to work collaboratively with our industry and state and territory colleagues in an effort to bring this complex public policy initiative to a resolution. And I hope to have good news on this front  soon.

Open GPS infrastructure

Not only are we reliant on GPS more and more in our daily lives from banking to mobile applications, but there is a growing economic dependence on precise positioning systems to underpin efficient transportation, geospatial data management, and industrial automation. 

Open access to GPS has been estimated to contribute at least US$90 billion in value to the US economy each year.

Australia has access to many more international space programs, including satellite navigation system projects, due to our unique position on the earth.

The Australian Government is working, through the Department of Industry, to leverage these open big data opportunities by ensuring the country’s national coordinate framework and national positioning infrastructure is fit-for-purpose and globally compatible for all positioning applications.

And Australia continues to lead the contemporary research in global and regional navigation satellite systems with the work being undertaken in Program 1 (Positioning) of the Cooperative Research Centre for Spatial Information.

This work demonstrates how to integrate signals from GPS, Beidou (China), GLONASS (Russia), Galileo (Europe) and QZSS (Japan) and providing centimetre accurate positioning in doing so.

Last month, this Program also demonstrated the role that QZSS can play in communicating directly with a driverless tractor at Jerilderie in New South Wales to conduct tillage and spraying operations while controlling the course of the tractor to within five centimetres of true.

Currently no other positioning satellite constellation has a communication AND positioning capability like this Japanese satellite.

The Japanese funded this research under a program established by my colleague the Hon Ian Macfarlane, Minister for Industry and Science,  and Mr Yoshitaka Shindo, the then Minister for Internal Affairs and Communications of Japan.

A promising development with this research is the possibility that Australia will need less communications infrastructure to support precise positioning applications in regional Australia potentially realising savings for government and users alike.

Australian studies have estimated that if we can harness all the signals from these various positioning satellites we could add up to $32 billion over 20 years to the Australian economy, a contribution of up to $7 billion to GDP.

Collaboration with states and territories, industry and academia

In the spatial context, success in delivering on the open data agenda depends on collaboration between governments, industry and academia.

I would like to acknowledge the efforts of the spatial sector in leading the open data charge.

These efforts are all the more impressive in light of the sheer complexity of a sector in which both governments and industry can be both suppliers and customers.

All jurisdictions, including the Commonwealth, collaborate through ANZLIC to provide crucial spatially referenced data, and the Foundation Spatial Data Framework continues to mature both in concept and delivery.

Industry plays a crucial role in developing innovative ways to meet the needs of the mobile digital market, and delivering products to benefit the Australian economy.

The role of academia is equally important, using the available data to conduct meaningful and insightful research, and help make Australia an internationally competitive research hub.

Our policy position on the open data agenda is to make more location data open by default, unless access is restricted to protect privacy, public safety, security and commercial confidentiality.

We want location data openly available at no charge to the end user, except where cost recovery is warranted for specialised services.

And we want location data published in formats that promote its use and reuse, and under open licensing arrangements. 

Several high value datasets either have been or will be opened shortly including the LANDSAT Archive; Broadband coverage and speed; the Australian Business Register; the Mobile Black Spots Dataset; the Budget and the complete Administrative Boundaries of Australia.  

The spatial sector has made great strides towards realising this open data agenda. 

I call on the sector to continue to provide leadership, because more remains to be done to ensure the positive impact of spatially-referenced data is realised.

Closing remarks

In data, and particularly spatially-referenced data, we have a valuable resource at our fingertips - a resource that’s akin to the coming of the first ancient maps in the new insights and direction it can offer in a globalised world.

It is there for the exploiting, to be mined and harnessed, although it’s probably fair to say we don’t yet comprehend the full extent of the benefits it can deliver.

That’s what this event is about; exploring the opportunities in this rapidly expanding industry.

I wish you all a useful and informative few days.

Thank you.



[4] Lateral Economics, Open for Business: How open data can help achieve the G20 growth target, June 2014, page 5; Geoscience Australia, APS 200 Location Project Report, 6 July 2011, page 14; and Frank Lewincamp, Report on the rationale for continued investment by ANZLIC jurisdictions in the development and delivery of foundation spatial data, 9 August 2013, page 6.

[5]  Lateral Economics, Open for Business: How open data can help achieve the G20 growth target, June 2014, page ii;

[6] Departmental analysis drawn from data type and origin of the data that is available on data.gov.au as at 25 February 2015.


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