A recent Guardian newspaper article details the current status of plans in the UK to force local government councils and other public sector, taxpayer funded organisations to freely publish, or enable public access to, the decades of data they have created, gathered and stored while carrying out their functions. This is an astounding and wonderful initiative.
I recently argued that the Victorian government has the responsibility to ensure that food health safety inspection information be made publicly available. Taxpayers fund the services that check that restaurants are safe and hygienic, yet we are not allowed to know the results. This is a commercial and moral affront to the public. We have paid for this work to be conducted for our benefit and we have a right to obtain the information.
The public demands this information so it can make informed choices about the food it consumes outside the home. I would love to force the Melbourne City Council and the City of Yarra Council to make information about the hygiene of city restaurants public. There’s a lot of other currently confidential information that would have great social utility if only it could be accessed.
In the UK the right of taxpayers to access taxpayer-funded data are starting to be taken seriously. Read the Cabinet office press release about the newly created Power of Information Task Force. There is also a very informative Free our data blog.
Australia is obviously a long way behind the UK on many issues (for example reconsidering pragmatic drug policies). How long will it be before Australian taxpayers are able to easily access the information they pay for and own?
The Office of Spatial Data Management (OSDM) coordinates spatial data management in Australia. A recent Inquiry into Improving Access to Victorian Public Sector Information and Data contains some interesting findings. It’s affirming to discover (albeit from a UK website) that the Australian federal government has a policy of free access to datasets.
If this is the case, how can state and local governments continue to bury information under commercial in confidence contracts or otherwise refuse to not publish information the public wants to access?