Thursday, April 18, 2013

Big Data. The former minister wants it, others not so much

Conference website here.

Rudd backer Kim Carr - a casualty of Labor’s leadership turmoil - will use a speech in Melbourne Thursday to attack “bureaucratic blockers” in the public service and his own party’s commitment to open government.

Until March the minister for human services responsible for Centrelink, Medicare and the pharmaceutical benefits scheme, Senator Carr will say most governments start off believing in open government, but that “the will tends to ossify”.

Senator Carr broke new ground by throwing open previously closed departmental records to researchers examining questions such as the link between prescription drugs and birth defects and the health impacts of low incomes.

Invited to open Thursday’s health informatics conference when he was minister, he agreed to open the conference as backbencher after the invitation was re-issued.

“Who isn’t in favour of accountability? Who isn’t a fan of evidence-based policy?” his speaking notes say.

“The trouble is our practice doesn’t always live up to our aspirations.”

“As Sir Humphrey observed in Yes Minister: If people don’t know what you’re doing, they don’t know what you’re doing wrong.”

“The authority to approve data release is usually held by very senior public servants. However this power is often delegated right down to ‘middle management’ positions.”

“I have been told that officers with the delegated authority often ‘sit on’ requests for inordinate amounts of time. Sometimes it’s due to an overblown assessment of the privacy risks. At other times, they simply lack the time to jump through the hurdles"...

The department processes 200 million payments per year. It holds 7 million gigabits of data.

“President Obama has recently announced a great new project to map the human mind. We have here the great map of Australian society: life as it is lived,” Senator Carr will say.

“Public servants need to constantly be reminded and perhaps reassured that government wants them to release data in accordance with legislation.”

“I have approached members of the Coalition on this front, and I have been very pleased with their response.”

In The National Times

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