Senator Kim Carr initiates better collaboration between government and researchers

20 February 2013

From cradle to grave the federal government collects a wealth of information about Australians' interaction with social services that can provide immense opportunities for researchers to put hard evidence into critical national debates.

The government has this information, our researchers are keen to use it, and billions of dollars rest on the decisions they could inform. So where to from here?

In a move to create an environment where greater use can be made of government data the Federal Minister for Human Services, Senator the Hon Kim Carr, visited the University of Sydney today to meet with a select group of 20 researchers from our faculties of pharmacy, medicine, arts and social sciences, health science and science.

The discussion was also attended by Dean of Pharmacy Professor Iqbal Ramzan, the University's Director of Research Development Dr Andrew Black, and was closed by Vice-Chancellor Dr Michael Spence.

Senator Carr oversees the Department of Human Services, which through its Centrelink Master Program alone stores 3 million gigabytes of data - enough to fill close to 200,000 iPads. Senator Carr told a conference late last year that this is just the beginning of the department's assets.

"We know where people live, when they've worked, how they've responded to major shocks. We know what illnesses they've suffered and how they were treated. We can follow a family's journey right down the generations," he said.

Senator Carr said improved collaboration between the department and researchers could enable the sort of projects that are otherwise off the table, such as longitudinal studies of people from birth to death, modelling of poverty through the generations, and research that provides sophisticated, modern and robust evidence that could be used to improve people's lives.

The University of Sydney, with its multidisciplinary focus on finding solutions to real-world issues has particular interest in this data.

Access issues for researchers to government data have historically included legislative and privacy restrictions. Linkage across government data sets would also enable a much broader view of an individual's circumstance than is available otherwise.

University of Sydney Director of Research Development and Collaboration Dr Andrew Black said carefully managed access to the rich and valuable population data gathered by the government, with appropriate protections for privacy was key to efficient and effective utilisation of resources.

"The University of Sydney strongly supports this initiative to make publicly-owned data available for analysis, to further collaboration between government and researchers for the benefit of us all, and to improve the efficiency and accountability of publicly-funded agencies," Dr Black said.

(L-R) Vice-Chancellor Dr Michael Spence, Senator Kim Carr and Associate Professor Sallie Pearson  from the Faculty of Pharmacy.
(L-R) Vice-Chancellor Dr Michael Spence, Senator Kim Carr and Associate Professor Sallie Pearson from the Faculty of Pharmacy.

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