National Interest Datasets

Delivering community benefit.

Key points

Sourced from chapter 7 of the Productivity Commission's Final Report

Wider release of data and more effective sharing by governments would likely trigger significant investment (private and public) and improvements in national welfare. However, determining which datasets could lead to such improvements remains a serious practical issue for governments.

Datasets of high value have a number of distinct characteristics, including that they are unique (or cannot be readily replicated), are of high quality, have a high degree of coverage in the relevant population, and are up-to-date or updated regularly.

National interests additionally require that coverage is oriented towards broadly significant subject matter. Data with these combined characteristics are likely to generate spillover benefits for the community and should be designated as National Interest Datasets.

Prioritising selection of National Interest Datasets would require flexibility and discretion. A parliamentary committee would be a suitable vehicle to scrutinise this process, rather than try to define national interest in legislation. Engagement with democratic representation would assist in maintaining social licence.

The process for selecting datasets for designation as National Interest Datasets would be open to the public. As the funder of National Interest Datasets, the Australian Government would be the arbiter of their selection.

Initial candidates for consideration as National Interest Datasets include existing public sector datasets that provide registers of businesses, services or assets, or record activity in key areas of public expenditure, such as health and education, as well as datasets held in private entities that are regulated in the public interest and/or receive public funding.

It is expected that other datasets would be nominated as National Interest Datasets by a range of parties, including state and territory governments, private sector entities and not-for-profit organisations. Incentives to do so include provision by the Australian Government of ongoing funding for integration and maintenance, a desire for national linkage and access, and the removal of current restrictions on sharing and release, replaced by fit-for-purpose safeguards.

A designated Accredited Release Authority would provide access to National Interest Datasets.

The National Data Custodian would lead the process to identify and develop the case in support of National Interest Datasets, and ensure the chosen Accredited Release Authorities make National Interest Datasets widely available.

The processes used by the National Data Custodian should be transparent and risk-based.

A focus on the net benefits likely to accrue from designating a dataset as a National Interest Dataset, the possible impacts on intellectual property, impacts on incentives to continue collection, and a detailed consideration of the costs to the collecting party or parties, should be the primary points of focus in deliberation.

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Productivity Commission Recommendations

7.1 and 7.2

Recommendationsort ascending Description

In considering nominations for National Interest Datasets (NIDs), the National Data Custodian’s public interest test should establish that through sharing or release, the designation of a dataset would be likely to generate significant additional community- wide net benefits beyond those obtained by the original data holder.

Once designated, NIDs that contain non-sensitive data should be made available for immediate release.

NIDs that include data on individuals would be available to trusted users only in a manner that reflects the accreditation processes of the relevant Accredited Release Authority, as established and updated by the National Data Custodian, to respect privacy and confidentiality.

Where data from the private and/or not-for-profit sectors is recommended to be included in a NID, the analysis prior to designation should specifically note the ways the designation addresses genuine commercial sensitivity associated with the information and costs (including those related to ongoing dataset maintenance).


The Australian Government, in consultation with State and Territory governments, should establish a process whereby public (and in some exceptional cases, private) datasets are nominated and designated as National Interest Datasets (NIDs).

This process should be public, driven by the National Data Custodian, and involve:

  • The National Data Custodian accepting nominations for NIDs, assessing their public interest merits and, after consideration by the Government, referring selected nominations to a public scrutiny process. Designation would occur via a disallowable instrument on the recommendation of the National Data Custodian.
  • The establishment of a parliamentary committee, or addition of such a role to the work of an existing parliamentary committee, to conduct public scrutiny of nominations for NIDs.

The process of nomination should be open to the States and Territories in order to cover linked datasets.

This process should be in place by the end of 2018, as part of the legislative package to implement these reforms.