Accessing government data could lead to new ‘mining boom’

Senator Kim Carr and Vice-Chancellor Professor Janice Reid

Senator Kim Carr and UWS Vice-Chancellor Professor Janice Reid

Minister for Human Services Senator Kim Carr (opens in a new window) visited the University of Western Sydney recently to discuss how the Government can work with researchers to use government data to support research and build better health and social services for Australians.

Senator Carr met with UWS Vice-Chancellor Professor Janice Reid, Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) Professor Andrew Cheetham and UWS researchers to explore ways to mine a virtual El Dorado of data collected by government agencies.

Senator Carr says the Department of Human Services (opens in a new window) (DHS) looks after Australians at every stage of life and makes 200 million individual payments a year through Centrelink, Medicare and Child Support.

“The Department collects a wealth of information about Australians’ interaction with social services throughout their lives,” Senator Carr says.

For example, 22 million Australians use Medicare, while the Child Support Program has information on a million children growing up with the assistance of child support.

There are potentially more than seven million gigabytes of data available for researchers to use, including details such as gender, age, income, assets, Medicare rebates, marital status and whether individuals are caring for children.

“This information can provide significant opportunities for researchers to put hard evidence into critical national debates,” Senator Carr says.

While data is collected to determine an individual’s eligibility for government payments or services, the information can also be tremendously valuable to researchers looking at Australian health, welfare, social or economic trends and other research areas.

Professor Andrew Cheetham, UWS Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research), says accessing the data could dramatically expand the scope and number of studies UWS researchers can conduct.

“Accessing good, reliable data is the cornerstone of all research.  A closer collaboration with the Department of Human Services to access data has the potential to enhance the ability of our researchers to conduct their research and open up new possibilities for large, longitudinal studies which may otherwise be too difficult or expensive to conduct,” says Professor Cheetham.

Senator Carr says over the last few years there have been a number of discussions with UWS about the use of DHS data in health-related research in such areas as improving the birth rate for babies conceived by IVF.

“This is an example of how government can work with the research community to achieve improved services for all Australians,” he says.
“I want strong relationships with researchers to be at the heart of how we work.  The aim is to use information already available to strengthen research and provide new avenues for research.”

Senator Carr says the DHS is helping researchers become more aware of how to access data, in line with privacy and legislative requirements.

“The Department is committed to maintaining its strong record on personal privacy,” he says.


14 March 2013

Media contact: Paul Grocott, Senior Media Officer

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