Independent review of Australian Government environmental information activity

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Oct 21, 2013 (3 years and 9 months ago)

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Independent review

of Australian Government

environmental

information activity



Final report
















Stephen Morton

and Anthea Tinney


Reviewers















Independent review

of Australian Government

environmental

information activity




Final report

















Stephen Morton

and Anthea Tinney


Reviewers


































Creative Commons

This report is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 3.0
Australia licence
(http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/au/deed.en).


This publication should be attributed as:

Morton, S. and Tinney, A., 2012
.
Independent
r
eview of Australian Government
e
nvironmental
i
nformation
a
ctivity
: Final
r
eport
. Canberra
:
DSEWPaC.


Disclaimer

This report was prepared by Stephen Morton and Anthea Tinney. The views it contains are not
necessarily those of the Australian Government. While reasonable efforts have been made to ensure
that the contents of this publication are fac
tually correct, the Commonwealth does not accept
responsibility for the accuracy or completeness of the contents, and shall not be liable for any loss or
damage that may be occasioned directly or indirectly through the use of, or reliance on, the contents
of this publication.






L
ETTER OF
T
RANSMITTAL



The Hon
.

Tony Burke MP

Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities

Parliament House

CANBERRA ACT 2600


Dear Minister


We have now concluded an Independent Review of Australian
Government Environmental
Information Activity, which we were engaged to undertake in November 2011 by Dr Paul Grimes,
Secretary of the Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities.


We attach our report for your consideratio
n. The terms of reference asked us to report on processes
for the investment in, management and use of environmental information so as to identify
opportunities for improving the efficiency and effectiveness of the Australian Government’s
environmental inf
ormation business. Our review is part of the initiative for a National Plan for
Environmental Information.


Our report identifies obstacles to efficient and effective use of environmental information across the
Australian Government, and provides recommend
ations to overcome the
se obstacles
. In particular, we
recommend establishing new governance arrangements to ensure that policy priorities and strategic
directions are set at the whole
-
of
-
government level.


We believe that Australia deserves an environmenta
l information system that is responsive to policy
through efficient and effective use of that information for impr
oved environmental management.
Real
-
time accession of environmental information is accelerating dramatically and modelling of
national and reg
ional environments is becoming possible. If the Australian Government is prepared for
these possibilities then the nation will benefit greatly through improved management, both of its
environmental heritage and its information assets. With patience and foc
us, initial developments in
the National Plan for Environmental Information can now be built upon to place Australia in a world
-
leading position.


We commend the report to you.


Yours sincerely








Dr Stephen Morton




Ms
Anthea

Tinney


November 2012









Contents

Executive summary

................................
................................
................................
................................
.

viii

Recommendations of the review

................................
................................
................................
.........

xii

1. Introduction

................................
................................
................................
................................
............

1

1.1 The National Plan for Environmental Information

................................
................................
..........

1

1.2 The Australian Government information context

................................
................................
...........

2

1.3 Environmental information

................................
................................
................................
..............

4

1.4 Previous environmental information reform

................................
................................
...................

4

1.5 Approach taken by the review

................................
................................
................................
.........

6

1.6 Structure of the report

................................
................................
................................
.....................

7

2. Cultural issues

................................
................................
................................
................................
.........

8

2.1 The challenges

................................
................................
................................
................................
..

8

2.1.1 Information to support evidence
-
based pol
icy

................................
................................
........

8

2.1.2 Utility of existing environmental information

................................
................................
..........

9

2.1.3 Clear roles and responsibilities

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................................
...............................

10

2.1.4 Clear policy priorities

................................
................................
................................
..............

10

2.1.5 Governance structures

................................
................................
................................
...........

11

2.1.6 Policy and budgetary time scales

................................
................................
...........................

11

2.1.7 Security culture

................................
................................
................................
.......................

12

2.2 Recommendations

................................
................................
................................
.........................

13

2.2.1 Establish a policy advisory group on environment

................................
................................
.

13

2.2.2 Refocus the Australian Government Environmental Information Advisory Group

...............

14

2.2.3 Engage the states and territories

................................
................................
...........................

14

3. Structural issues

................................
................................
................................
................................
...

15

3.1 The challenges

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................................
................................
................................

15

3.1.1 Internal agency organisation

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................................
................................
..

15

3.1.2 Cross
-
agency barriers

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................................
................................
.............

16

3.1.3 The ‘embedded bureau’ model

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................................
..............................

17

3.1.4 Examples of whole
-
of
-
government coordination groups

................................
......................

18

3.1.5 A whole
-
of
-
government coordinat
ion mechanism

................................
................................

19

3.1.6 The role of a central coordinating authority for environmental information

........................

20

3.2 Recommendations

................................
................................
................................
.........................

21

3.2.1 Improve coordination at an agency level

................................
................................
...............

21

3.2.2 Improve the central coordination of environ
mental information

................................
.........

22

4. Funding arrangements

................................
................................
................................
.........................

23

4.1 The challenges

................................
................................
................................
................................

23

4.1.1 The cost of environmental information

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................................
.................

23

4.1.2 Accounting for environmental information
................................
................................
............

24





4.1.3 Duration of funding

................................
................................
................................
................

25

4.1.4 Ensuring value from information investments

................................
................................
.......

26

4.2 Recommendations

................................
................................
................................
.........................

26

4.2.1 Find funding efficiencies

................................
................................
................................
.........

27

4.2.2 Ensure new investments are collaborative and meet priorit
y needs
................................
.....

27

5. Technical issues

................................
................................
................................
................................
....

28

5.1 The challenges

................................
................................
................................
................................

28

5.1.1 Standards

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................................
................................
................................

28

5.1.2 Collection standards

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................................
................................
...............

29

5.1.3 Authoritative standards

................................
................................
................................
..........

30

5.1.4 Information and records management

................................
................................
..................

31

5.2 Recommendations

................................
................................
................................
.........................

32

5.2.1 Affirm the central coordinating authority’s role in addressing standards

.............................

33

5.2.2 Promote the use of machine
-
readable information

................................
..............................

33

6. Legal arrangements

................................
................................
................................
..............................

34

6.1 The challenges

................................
................................
................................
................................

34

6.1.1 Creative Commons licensing
................................
................................
................................
...

34

6.1.2 Making environmental information publicly available

................................
...........................

35

6.1.3 Jurisdictions

................................
................................
................................
............................

35

6.1.4 Repurposing information

................................
................................
................................
........

37

6.1.5 Government
-
funded research

................................
................................
................................

37

6.1.6 Legislative restriction
s

................................
................................
................................
............

38

6.2 Recommendations

................................
................................
................................
.........................

38

6.2.1 Remove barriers to open licensing

................................
................................
.........................

39

7. A whole
-
of
-
government system

................................
................................
................................
...........

40

7.1 Examples from other sectors

................................
................................
................................
.........

40

7.2 Examples from other jurisdictions

................................
................................
................................
.

43

7.3 A vision for environmental information

................................
................................
........................

44

7.4 Conclusion

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................................
................................
................................
......

47

Acknowledgements

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................................
................................
................................
..

48

Appendix 1: Terms of reference

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................................
................................
...............

49

Appendix 2: List of shortened forms

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................................
................................
........

51






viii


Executive
s
ummary

Introduction

This

review has examined existing
environmental information activity across the
Australian Government to identify
opportunities for cooperation, consolidation,
improvement and
efficiency
. Our fo
cus
has
been

on
the ways in which

environmental
information is acquired, managed and used
rather than on what information is involved.
The review aimed to discover and recommend
actions to address systemic issues in the
effective provision of environmental

information to those policy areas that rely on,
or could benefit greatly from, targeted, timely
and appropriate evidence about the
environment.

Key
f
indings

The review identified obstacles

to effective and
efficient use of the environmental information
base across the Australian Government,
summarised in f
ive

themes: cultural issues that
inhibit collaboration between
policy

makers

and information providers; structural barriers
to coordination and cooperation; current
funding arrangements;
technical barri
ers;
and
legal barriers.

Cultural issues

Evidence provided to the review indicated that
environmental information provider agencies
are not universally effective in interfacing with
policy. Ineffectiveness occurs mostly where
there is a lack of appreciatio
n among
information providers to the needs of
policy

makers
, and inadequate governance to ensure
that providers prioritise their work to align
with those policy needs. The lack of guidance
to provider agencies, and the inability of policy
agencies to expre
ss clear priorities, is a key
failing. The ‘short
-
termism’ of policy interest,
while legitimately inherent to that domain, also
makes it difficult for provider agencies to
anticipate and respond with quality
information, or to build, maintain and
reuse

the

long
-
term datasets needed to answer
many policy questions with rigour.

Under such conditions, the collection and
maintenance of environmental information by
provider agencies tends to be driven by
bilateral service agreements with policy
agencies or by r
esearch questions,
either
of
which may be only weakly linked to whole
-
of
-
government priorities. A lack of clarity on roles
and responsibilities for environmental
information across government also makes it
difficult to identify the best source for
informat
ion when it is required, and risks
duplicative investment by provider agencies in
collecting and maintaining information.

Redressing these cultural issues requires
improved communication and coordination
between policy agencies and provider
agencies. New
governance arrangements are
recommended to ensure that policy priorities
and strategic directions are set at
the
whole
-
of
-
government level
,

and to make sure that roles
and responsibilities are clear. The
se

arrangements require the creation of a high
-
level
body


a
Policy Advisory Group on
Environment



to set the
environmental
information
policy agenda, and the re
-
tuning of
the existing Australian Government
Environmental Information Advisory Group
(established under the National Plan for
Environmental Info
rmation
, or NPEI
)
to assist
in translating this agenda into tangible
information activities.

Structural
b
arriers

Structural barriers are those which prevent
discoverability and inhibit sharing between
agencies. They begin with poor internal
coordination
.

This

means that many agencies
do not have visibility of information held within
their own perimeters and so have limited
ability to share holdings

within their own
agencies and

with other agencies. While most
agencies have a senior leadership role charged
with oversight of information technology, few
extend this role or complement it with
responsibility for broader information
management. Such leadership is essential not
only to ensure that good information
management practices are followed internally
but a
lso to facilitate coordination between
agencies.

Many agencies possess analytic capability in
internal ‘embedded’ bureaus which provide
information tailored to each agency’s business.


ix


These bureaus tend to rely on informal
networks to share information am
ong
agencies, making staff retention and corporate
knowledge the key feature of their success.
These units can face similar cultural challenges
within their agencies as those described above
between agencies,
the exception being

where
a


broker
’ links poli
cy needs
to the
provision of
environmental information
.

Mechanisms to facilitate whole
-
of
-
government
coordination in environmental information
have grown in recent years, but they remain
inadequate.
As a consequence,

agencies have
few avenues through which

to discover, expose
and share their environmental information
activity with others, which in turn can lead to
duplicative activity.

Improving whole
-
of
-
government coordination
of environmental information is necessary.
While the

role of the

Bureau of Mete
orology

(BoM)

as the central coordinating authority has
been established under the NPEI initiative,
there are some aspects of this function that are
yet to be fully realised. We recommend that
BoM
, in this role, should maintain fundamental
authoritative da
tasets for the Australian
Government or endorse as authoritative those
held by other custodians. Further, we suggest
that
BoM
should develop operating
arrangements to provide effective access to
these datasets wherever they are held, and
that it maintains
a catalogue of information
held across government and of current
information activity. Establishing panels for the
collaborative
purchasing of information,
particularly in areas where significant private
-
sector products are available, is another
essential
service that should be provided by
BoM
.

To improve coordination within agencies, we
recommend
stronger

senior executive
leadership
through

an annual priority
-
setting
process to decide and communicate each
agency’s information needs. We also
recommend the strengthening or development
of analytic capacities within policy agencies,
such as embedded bureaus, including provision
of broker units w
here necessary to translate
and promote the work of a bureau internally.
Linking these analytic units with
BoM

as
the
central coordinating authority
for
environmental information
will create a formal
network for sharing and checking for
duplicative process
es. Finally, we recommend
that each agency employ an enterprise
architecture approach to understand the
information generated as part of its business
-
as
-
usual processes, leading to beneficial
capture and reuse.

Funding
a
rrangements

The funding arrangement

for environmental
information can act as

a

barrier to a
coordinated system. In general, the cost of
environmental information is not accounted
for across government, which limits the ability
to analyse returns on the investment in that
information. Short
-
term policy demand comes
with short
-
term funding
,

which creates a
tension where longer
-
term data are necessary
to answer policy questions. This mismatch also
risks losing the investment that is made in
environmental information, especially where it
does no
t provide for reuse through ensuring
ongoing collection and maintenance.

To check for duplicative investment in
environmental information and to ensure
funding is effective in meeting the needs of
government, we propose to reform funding
arrangements
by

increasing transparency of
investment; by auditing the current
expenditure on environmental information in
priority areas; and by creating a way for new
spending to be checked against existing
holdings. New investments that meet shared
needs against priori
ty areas will be made under
the aegis of the Policy Advisory Group on
Environment, which will fund the
Environmental Information Advisory Group’s
workplan.

Technical
b
arriers

The dominant technical barrier is a lack of
consistent information standards acr
oss
agencies and between governments. Standards
reduce transaction cost
s

and improve the
likelihood that data will be provided as
required. The problem is not usually that
standards are absent, but more often there is
an abundance of different and isolated

standards. Resolving these into one standard,
or at least interoperable standards, is the


x


current challenge. While collection standards
help to ensure data quality, metadata
standards are the key to reusing information.
Metadata

provide information about
data,
which allows analysis of whether data can be
used for an intended purpose. Harvesting
metadata
also
allows cataloguing of
information for powerful search engines, the
underpinning infrastructure of a semantic web
and the first step towards ‘big data’
.

Storage capacity issues are beginning to
emerge for digital information and solutions
are being sought through collaborative
computing arrangements. Significant amounts
of environmental information acquired by
government
are
, however, still paper
-
based.

Capturing information from regulatory and
grant
-
reporting processes, for example, will
unlock a significant source of environmental
information for reuse. To be able to harvest
this information requires implementation of an
Electronic Document Record Mana
gement
System (EDRMS) that is searchable


with

a
framework for modelling, mapping and
organising information using metadata.

Accelerating the uptake of EDRMSs requires
re
cogni
tion

that valuable information is
generated at all stages of an agency’s business
process, which in turn requires a full
understanding of those processes and a
realised architecture to make information
interoperable, discoverable and accessible.

The first step

to overcoming barriers to the
implementation of
EDRMS

technology is the
harmonisation, resolution and maintenance of
authoritative standards. It is also necessary to
continue to promote the use of machine
-
readable information and the
supporting
technical
systems. These would include
developing an enterprise architecture
capability within agencies or across
government to allow the capture of
information for
reuse
, and the implementation
of EDRMSs that fully support machine
-
based
harvesting of information.

Legal barriers

The review found that the majority of legal
barriers preventing effective use and reuse of
environmental information involved licensing
restrictions. Australian Government policy
endorses the
use of Creative Commons
Attribution
licensing and

the
Australian
Governments Open Access and Licensing
(
AusGOAL
)

framework
;
however, a significant
amount of environmental information is still
restricted by licensing conditions. For the most
part this is due to legacy licensing issues,
where the data
were

obtained under
restrictive
licences

prior to the introduction of
the present
policy or where the third
-
party
provider of that information imposes such
licensing despite the Australian Government
position.

Concerns about public sharing of sensitive
enviro
nmental information, such as the
location of threatened species, may also
motivate licensing restrictions.
T
his
, however,

often results in large amounts of non
-
sensitive
data being restricted due to a few records
within a dataset
;

a better approach would b
e
to specifically restrict the records themselves,
rather than the
entire

dataset. Overall, a failure
to
license

freely has led to duplication of
datasets in many cases, and to difficulties in
subsequently reusing data for different
purposes.

The states and territories are significant third
-
party providers of environmental information
to the Australian Government. The licensing
restrictions
that
may be placed on data
obtained from the jurisdictions are often
motivated by cost
-
recovery
driver
s,
but
examples were provided to the review of
situations in which the Australian Government
was able to work within these restrictions to
produce publicly available information
products using restricted data. The
implementation of the AusGOAL framework
acros
s the jurisdictions is encouraging the
removal of such restrictions and should see
more information released under Creative
Commons licensing.

In light of these ongoing
difficulties

with the
licensing of environmental information, the
review recommends th
at the Environmental
Information Advisory Group work
s

to
produce
a guide to implementing the AusGOAL
framework for users
and providers
of
environmental information; that agencies
undertake an audit of their information


xi


licences

with the aid of
the Australi
an
Government Information Management Office
(
AGIMO
)

and with a view to resolving legacy
licensing issues to allow full use of the
AusGOAL framework; and that in all possible
cases
,

licences

purchased for data be whole
-
of
-
government and
allow
ongoing use
,

as well as

release under a Creative Commons Attribution
licence
.

The
f
uture

Within the broader landscape of information
reform, environmental information requires
particular attention. In general, it has lagged
behind economic and social information in it
s
organisation and availability across
government because
of its organic, rather than
strategic, growth
. A lack of agreed standards,
unclear roles and responsibilities across
government, and legacy licensing issues
restricting sharing are problems that pla
gue
this sector and which must be addressed. Our
report suggests ways to reform key processes
to create a system that works at a whole
-
of
-
government level
;

to answer major policy
priorities; to harness existing environmental
information; to invest in share
d and enduring
needs across government; and ultimately to
build an agile system that can be responsive to
policy requirements across several time scales.

A whole
-
of
-
government system is required if
reform is to be achieved, and so the review has
noted
exam
ples of coordinated information
activity

in other sectors of the Australian
Government, internationally and in other
Australian jurisdictions.

The creation of a
Policy Advisory Group on
Environment

(PAGE) will provide senior
leadership, set the strategic
direction for
environmental information reform, and
prioritise whole
-
of
-
government policy needs
for environmental information, staged through
time. The
Environmental Information Advisory
Group (EIAG),
an existing reform of the NPEI,
should continue its wor
k to meet strategic
objectives defined by PAGE. The role of BoM as
the central coordinating authority for
environmental information should be
confirmed and extended.

Finally
,

there is the question of how the
Australian Government should work with the
state
s and territories, an issue that must be
addressed,
initiall
y through the Council of
Australian Governments. The prize is a fully
integrated environmental information system;
the task begun through the NPEI now needs
careful, guided development extending i
nto
the
long term
.

A
ustralia deserves an environmental
information system that is responsive to policy
and
that

uses and
reuses the information
generated by its agencies efficiently and
effectively. The NPEI has made the first steps
towards this visionary
outcome. With patience
and focus, these initial developments can
result in Australia becoming a world leader.

Our

review is timely
.
In the current decade or
so, the price and performance of information
and communication technology will continue
to
improv
e

by orders of magnitude; real
-
time
accession of environmental information will
accelerate; and mode
l
ling of whole
-
of
-
nation
and regional environmental systems will
become possible. If the Australian Government
is prepared for these possibilities then the
na
tion will benefit greatly through improved
management, both of its information assets
and of its environmental heritage.









xii


Recommendations
of the

review

Section 2:

Recommendations to address
cultural issues

2.2.1


Establish a P
olicy
A
dvisory
G
roup on
E
nvironment (PAGE) to:



p
rioritise policy requirements for environmental information investment on the basis of their
shared significance across government, the perceived level of work required and the
anticipated timeline



m
aintain a list of major environmental policies or progra
ms that are shared across agencies in
order to inform its decisions on priority activities



a
pprove and release funding for the EIAG workplan (see
S
ection 4.2 for more information on
the PAGE funding model)



c
larify, with assistance from EIAG, the key roles
and responsibilities for environmental
information across the Australian Government



m
eet approximately three times a year to set the policy agenda and to monitor progress



l
iaise with the Australian Research Committee to ensure alignment of research priori
ties with
priorities for environmental information.

2.2.2


Refocus the Australian Government Environmental Information Advisory Group to:



d
evelop a workplan

which describes projects to be undertaken by BoM and other EIAG
agencies in order to address the policy priorities



p
rovide advice to PAGE on the roles and responsibilities in environmental information across
government, exposing any duplicative activity



a
ssist in developing a guide to licensing arrangements for environmental information (see
S
ection

6)



a
ssist the central coordinating authority to discover and maintain a list of environmental
information assets across government



h
ave input into the develop
ment of standards and national datasets by the central
coordinating authority.

2.2.3


Engage the states and territories
.



Consider the current

Commonwealth

Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation
Act 1999

(the EPBC Act)

reform process and the extent to which that could assist in engaging
the states and territories more fully in sharing environmental information. In the first instance
this could take the form of a pilot project
;

for example
,

between the Australian and the

Western Australian governments on sharing information obtained from assessments, noting
the recent work already undertaken in Western Australia towards this goal.



Engage through

the Council of Australian Governments to lead resolution of the many
interjur
isdictional issues in collecting and sharing environmental information.






xiii


Section 3: Recommendations to address structural
barriers

3.2.1


Improve coordination at an agency level
.


We note the need for improved coordination at an internal agency level in order to provide for
whole
-
of
-
government coordination of environmental information. We recommend three
measures.

Executive leadership



Ensure that there is an agency senior executive

champion for managing information, and not
just for
information and communication technology (
ICT
)
.



Require agency senior executives to undertake annual priority
-
setting exercises to decide and
communicate their information needs.

Internal analytic capac
ity



Develop and support embedded bureaus within policy agencies, including providing broker
units to promote their work and translate policy needs.



Use these embedded bureaus to provide an interface with the central coordinating authority.
This will allow

BoM to check for duplicative purchasing and harness shared fundamental
datasets while providing tailored, responsive solutions to the needs of each department.

Architectural business understanding



Use an enterprise architecture approach to understand the
business and business systems of
policy agencies in order to allow information to be captured and reused from business
processes.

3.2.2


Improve the central coordination of environmental information
.



Work with embedded departmental bureaus to assemble an
d maintain a catalogue of
environmental information already held across government and of environmental information
activity underway.



Endorse authoritative datasets where they are held by other custodians and
,

where relevant
,

maintain authoritative funda
mental datasets on behalf of the Australian Government.



Develop operating arrangements to provide effective access by relevant users across the
Australian Government to information held by the central coordinating authority and other
custodians.



Establish

environmental information procurement panels for use by Australian Government
agencies purchasing environmental information and products, particularly from private sector
suppliers. A list of existing panels maintained by other agencies should also be cre
ated.

Legislation



Introduce legislation only after sufficient understanding of the ongoing role of the central
coordinating authority has been gained through the projects and initiatives currently
underway.



Consider the merits of, in the longer term, transferring the central coordinating authority
function to a separate statutory body in the manner of
the Australian Institute of Health and
Welfare (
AIHW
)
.





xiv


Section 4: Recommendations to address funding
arrangements

4.2.1


Find funding efficiencies
.



Require agencies to record costs of environmental information in Portfolio Budget Statements
and
a
nnual
r
eports in order to ensure greater transparency.



Charge PAGE with directing an audit of current environ
mental information
-
related
expenditure in priority areas.



Make the costs of acquiring and maintaining environment information fully transparent when
proponent agencies are developing
new policy proposals
,

using
Department of Finance and
Deregulation (
DoFD
)

costing sheets
.

DoFD may then

s
eek advice from the central coordinating
authority on whether the environmental information or tools required to support a policy
proposal already exist, and seek assistance with costings if they do not.

4.2.2


Ensure new

investments are collaborative and meet priority needs
.



Provide PAGE with an initial investment of $10 million per annum to assist with increasing the
efficiency and effectiveness of environmental information across relevant portfolios in
underpinning
major policy initiatives, through the following process:

-

EIAG will assess shared needs in these whole
-
of
-
government priority areas and propose
projects to address these needs; the projects may be collaborative projects or be led by
individual agencies but
must address a shared need to be considered for PAGE funding.

-

PAGE will approve the EIAG workplan and release funding for agreed projects.



Consider increasing funding to PAGE for investment in shared priorities as additional
efficiencies are identified
.

Section 5:

Recommendations to address technical
barriers


5.2.1


Affirm the central coordinating authority’s role in addressing standards
.



Harmonise, resolve and maintain authoritative standards for environmental information,
following guidance from PAGE

on the appropriate priorities and timelines.



Develop new standards where applicable.

5.2.2


Promote the use of machine
-
readable information
.



Continue to promote the use of machine
-
readable information, and provision of the technical
systems to support implementation.



Develop and use an architectural understanding of business processes to capture information
for reuse.





xv


Section 6:

Recommendat
ion to address legal
barriers

6
.2.1


Remove barriers to open licensing
.



P
roduce a guide to the AusGOAL licensing

framework for users of environmental information
through collaboration between EIAG and AusGOAL
.



A
ddress legacy licensing issues by having agencies audit their information licensing
arrangements with the aid of AGIMO with a view to allowing full use of the AusGOAL licensing
framework
.




D
e
-
identify information when privacy is a concern
.




F
ocus on restri
cting individual records of sensitive data rather than applying restrictions to
entire datasets
.



C
onsult with the central coordinating authority on the potential for reuse when acquiring
environmental information with licensing restrictions
.



W
ork with the
central coordinating authority to identify sources of ‘top
-
up’ funding when the
cost of obtaining whole
-
of
-
government and ongoing use
licences
is prohibitive. This may come
through PAGE investment, through central coordinating authority funds, or through
collaboration with other interested agencies.





1


1. Introduction

In November 2011, Dr Paul Grimes, Secretary of the Department of Sustainability, Environment,
Water, Population and Communities (DSEWPaC), engaged us to undertake an
independent review of
Australian Government activity and processes for the investment in,
and the
management and use of
,

environmental information.

The review is part of the initiative for a National Plan for Environmental Information

(NPEI), announced
by the then Minister for Environment Protection, Heritage and the Arts in May 2010. The NPEI is a
whole
-
of
-
government program designed to coordinate and prioritise Australian Government
environmental information activity. It represents a
long
-
term approach to building and improving
Australia’s environmental information base.
T
he Terms of Reference
state that
:

The review of Australian Government environmental information activity will contribute to the
development of the
National Plan for E
nvironmental Information

by assessing current activity and
identifying opportunities for improving how the Australian Government conducts its environmental
information business. This includes how the Australian Government acquires or generates,
manages, sh
ares, provides access to and uses environmental information.

The full Terms of Reference are provided in Appendix 1.

The review has regard both to the NPEI and to broader environmental information activity across the
Australian Government. The focus of the

review is on
the ways in which

environmental information is
acquired, managed and used, rather than on what information is involved; the latter is being
addressed by other NPEI projects. The operations of the NPEI initiative (the first four years), includ
ing
the enduring governance arrangements that are being established through the initiative, are within
the scope of this review.

The review also examines existing Australian Government activity in environmental information to
identify opportunities for
cooperation, consolidation, improvement or efficiencies. The review does
not aim to describe all the environmental information activities carried out by each Australian
Government agency with related business
;

rather
, it

identifies common and significant i
ssues that may
impede full collaboration across the Australian Government and to which a shared solution can be
sought. Addressing these issues is just as critical to building a functional environmental information
infrastructure on a whole
-
of
-
government l
evel as
is
investment in data or technological capability.


1.1 The National Plan for Environmental Information

The NPEI initiative commenced in July 2010
to

coordinate and prioritise the way the Australian
Government collects, manages and uses environment
al information. In its first four years, the initiative
aims to establish the Bureau of Meteorology (BoM) as the Australian Government central coordinating
authority for environmental information; formalise arrangements to coordinate priorities and activit
ies
across government; review existing information resources and environmental information activity (this
review); and begin building priority national environmental datasets and the infrastructure to deliver
them. The NPEI is a whole
-
of
-
government pro
gram

implemented jointly by
DSEWPaC and BoM.

To date, BoM has initiated development of the National Environment
al

Information Infrastructure;
begun development of an environmental accounting framework; and invested in several collaborative
projects across gov
ernment aimed at demonstrating the value of taking a coordinated approach to
environmental information activity. DSEWPaC is responsible for initiating this review; for considering
legislative options to establish BoM’s new role; and for drafting
a n
ational

p
lan


the long
-
term
strategy for investment in environmental information.



2


The Australian Government Environmental Information Advisory Group (EIAG) has been established to
provide whole
-
of
-
government direction to BoM as the central coordinating authorit
y and to prioritise
environmental information activities across government. EIAG is chaired by the Director of
Meteorology, with BoM providing secretariat support.

It is a core tenet of the NPEI that policy drivers guide effort in environmental informatio
n activity, and
that information products need to be targeted to policy

makers’ needs. Through discovering and
addressing systemic issues in information management the NPEI aims to provide environmental
information to those policy areas that rely on, or co
uld benefit greatly from, targeted, timely and
appropriate evidence about the environment.

The NPEI reforms represent a significant step towards improving the level of coordination across the
Australian Government in the area of environmental information;
this review is a recognition that
more needs to be done to implement long
-
term reform.


1.2 The Australian Government information context

Significant reform in public sector information generally is underway across the Australian
Government. Several major

reviews, strategies, frameworks and principles provide the context for this
review, which concentrates on a relatively restricted thematic domain, albeit one with many unique
and persistent issues.

The
Australian Government Information Interoperability F
ramework
1

was released in April 2006 by the
Australian Government Information Management Office (AGIMO). This framework was developed to
assist Australian Government agencies to improve their capacity to manage and share information. It
provides the princi
ples by which Australian Government agencies are expected to share information
and establishes the concepts, practices and tools that enable this sharing to take place.

In 2007, the Australian Government endorsed as policy the Commonwealth Attorney
-
Genera
l’s
Statement of Intellectual Property Principles for Australian Government Agencies
2
. This
s
tatement
provides a broad framework for the management of intellectual property by government, including
making the Cre
ative Commons Attribution licenc
e the default for public sector information. All
agencies were to have adopted these principles by July 2008. The
Australian Government Intellectual
Property Manual
3

was compiled in 2008 to assist agencies in implementing the principles and was
subsequentl
y revised in March 2012 to reflect more recent moves towards making public sector
information openly available.

The
2008 National Innovation Review

Panel
4

recommended the development of a national information
strategy.
Then, i
n August 2009, the
National Go
vernment Information Sharing Strategy
5

was released.
The strategy noted that there had been inconsistent application of information management
frameworks and principles across government and attempted to focus effort in this area. The strategy,
as well as
AGIMO’s
Interoperability Framework
, also affirmed the principle that government should
manage information as an asset and a strategic resource.




1

Australian Government Information Management Office, 2006.
Australian Government Information Interoperability Framework
. Canberra:
AGIMO.

2

Attorney
-
General’s Department, 2007.
Statement of Intellectual Property
Principles for Australian Government Agencies
. Canberra:
AGD
.

3

Attorney
-
General’s Department, 2012.
Australian Government Intellectual Property Manual
. Canberra: A
GD
.

4
National Innovation Review Panel, 2008.
Venturous Australia: Building Strength in Innov
ation
. Melbourne: Cutler & Company.

5

Australian Government Information Management Office, 2009.
National Government Information Sharing Strategy
. Canberra
:

A
GIMO
.



3


The 2009
Government 2.0 Taskforce Report
6

restated many of the principles already mentioned in
support of makin
g government more open and transparent. The report argued that unless there are
good reasons to the contrary, information should be:



free (in the absence of substantial marginal costs)



easily discoverable



based on open standards and therefore machine
-
rea
dable (anticipating the semantic web)



properly documented and therefore understandable (supported by metadata)



licensed to permit free reuse and transformation by others.

The taskforce also recommended the use of the Creative Commons Attribution licence as the default


a proposal agreed to by the government in its response and implemented by the Information
Commissioner. The
Freedom of Information Amendment (Reform)
Act

20
10

also expressed the
aspiration for public sector information to be released openly by default.

(Note that all Acts referred to
in this review are Commonwealth Acts.)

The Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC) has since produced (in 2011) the
Principles on Open Public Sector Information
7
, which are set out in Table 1
.
Uptake of these principles
is occurring across government but still faces challenges.

In recognition of this, OAIC
’s
Open Public
Sector Information: Government in Transition
report

has been examining how Australian Government
agencies manage public sector information
, not
ing which principles agencies have found most
challenging to implemen
t and what assistance they need to meet their obligations. A full report
is
due
for release in November 2012.
8

Table 1
. The Australian Government
Principles on Open Public Sector Information

Principle 1: Open access to information


a default position

Information held by Australian Government agencies is a valuable national resource. If there is no legal need to
protect the information it should be open to public access
.

Principle 2: Engaging the community

Agencies should consult the community in deci
ding what information to publish and about agency publication
practices
.

Principle 3: Effective information governance

Agencies should manage information as a core strategic asset. An ‘information champion’ or knowledge officer
should be responsible for
information management and governance.

Principle 4: Robust information asset management

Agencies should implement robust information asset management. This includes keeping an information
register, training staff and establishing clear procedures on information publication and release.

Principle 5: Discoverable and useable information

Info
rmation held by agencies should be easy to discover and use. Agencies should ensure that information
published online is in an open and standards
-
based format, is machine
-
readable, uses high
-
quality metadata so
that it can be located and linked, and is pub
lished in accordance with relevant accessibility requirements.

Principle 6: Clear reuse rights

The economic and social value of public sector information is enhanced when it is made available for reuse on
open licensing terms. Be guided by the Australian

Government Open Access and Licensing Framework
(AusGOAL).

Principle 7: Appropriate charging for access

Agencies should provide public access to information at the lowest reasonable cost. Public access charges should
be clearly explained and consistent
with the
Freedom of Information Act 1982
.

Principle 8: Transparent
e
nquiry and complaints process

Agency decision making about information publication should be transparent. The procedure should be
published, explain how
e
nquiries and complaints will be
handled, set timeframes for responding, identify
possible remedies and complaint outcomes, and require written reasons to be given when resolving complaints.




6

Government 2.0 Taskforce, 2009.
Government 2.0 Taskforce Report
. Canberra: AGIMO.

7

Office

of the Australian Information Commissioner, 2011.

Principles on O
pen
P
ublic
S
ector
Information
. Canberra: OAIC
.

8

www.oaic.gov.au/publications/reports/open_psi_government_transition.html




4


1.3 Environmental information

Australian governments, industry and communities need comprehensive, trusted and timely
environmental information to help ensure government policies and programs are
properly
evidence
-
based. Decisions with an environmental component


either impacting the
environment or dealing
with an impact of the environment on society or the economy


are made daily by individuals,
businesses and all levels of government. Environmental information can encompass biophysical, social
and economic data. It is also important

to note that future policy demands on environmental
information will heavily rely on a mix of social and economic data, as well as biophysical information,
so that connections between the environment and society can be understood. Ongoing effort to
integr
ate relevant socio
-
economic data with environmental information is required to provide an
integrated and coherent evidence base to decision makers.

Environmental information is needed to:



better target public investment at the program and project level



mea
sure and understand the impacts and effectiveness of policies and investments



better identify and manage risks



enable the productive and sustainable use of natural resources



create markets for environmental goods and services, and foster linkages with car
bon markets for
wider environmental outcomes



provide an evidence base for decision

making



guide environmental planning, including through environmental impact assessments or influencing
urban and regional development



drive more productive and sustainable p
ractices in primary industries



enable integrated analysis to better capture synergies and understand tradeoffs between
economic, social and environmental objectives



meet reporting requirements and international obligations



improve the environmental literac
y of all Australians.

Given this wide range of uses, a definition of environmental information was not provided during the
consultation stages of this review. A definition of what constitutes environmental information might
have implied that the review was

focusing on the environmental information itself rather than the
activities
that

support it. Leaving environmental information undefined also allowed individual
agencies to ‘opt

in’ to the review by identifying for themselves
the

degree

to which

they enga
ged with
environmental information in their business activities.

For the purposes of this report, environmental information will be considered

to be

that which
supports or may result from the above range of uses. This would include, but is not limited to:

biophysical information such as climate, water, geological and species data; regulatory information
such as industry emissions data
;

and spatial information where it relates to the environment or is used
to underpin environmental datasets. Interpretive an
alyses based on these data and other information
products are also included in this definition.


1.4 Previous environmental information reform

The unique and persistent issues inherent in environmental information can be seen in previous
attempts to
improve the quality and cove
rage of
Australia’s environmental information base.
Improving the effectiveness of environmental information has been a long
-
standing goal of Australian
governments, and a number of different approaches have been attempted in th
e past.

In 1989 the Environmental Resources Information Network

(ERIN)

was created as a unit within the
then Department of the Arts, Sport, the Environment, Tourism and Territories to provide access to


5


environmental information for decision making, plannin
g and education. At the formal launch of the
network in August 1992, the Minister for the Arts, Sport, the Environment and Territories noted that
there was an urgent

need to improve the environmental information base on which government
relies to make the

many important decisions it must do in order to conserve the nation’s biodiversity
within the framework of ecologically sustainable development

9
. Over the last two decades, the
network has helped improve this base
. ERIN currently operates out of DSEWPaC,

where its primary
function is to support the department’s environmental information needs
.

The 1992 Intergovernmental Agreement on the Environment

(IGAE)

attempted to facilitate a
cooperative national approach to the environment, including mechanisms for
the coordination of data
collection and handling. The IGAE was a significant first step in reforming environmental information
activity across governments.

Its l
imited

success
in
achieving a significant degree of coordination of
environmental information c
an
, arguably,

be attributed to two factors. First
ly
, much of the schedule
on data collection and handling was non
-
binding, or agreed only in principle, without a clear
commitment to outcomes, timeframes or resourcing. Secondly, the responsibilities were ve
sted within
a multi
-
jurisdictional council which did not have the operational capacity, sufficient resources or the
enduring mandate and purpose required to achieve coordination over the long term.

The National Land and Water Resources Audit was establish
ed in 1997 under the Natural Heritage
Trust. Its goal was to develop information to support the assessment of change in natural resources as
a result of government programs. The audit concluded its operational activity in 2008. Although the
audit produced
a number of national
-
scale assessments and achieved some agreement on suitable
indicators for a number of natural resource management issues, it did not develop into an enduring
system
. Again the reasons for this appear to be twofold.

First
ly
,
a
s a compone
nt of a
relatively short
-
term
funding program
the audit was not assured of an existence beyond
the life of the program.
Secondly, it was based on purely collaborative arrangements with no commitment or mechanisms to
ensure ongoing information collection ag
ainst the agreed indicators.

More recently, the Murray
-
Darling Basin crisis of 2006 precipitated a new approach to the
management of water information for the nation with BoM assuming a number of responsibilities for
water data. The approach centred the r
esponsibility for coordinating water information in a single
agency, backed by legislation in the form of the
Water Act 2007
, and with sufficient resourcing to
undertake the work.

The
National Greenhouse and Energy Reporting Act 2007

introduced a single na
tional reporting
framework for the reporting and dissemination of information about greenhouse gas emissions,
energy production and energy consumption
of

corporations. It is an example of a centrally driven,
national initiative backed by legislation. Coupled with the National Carbon Accounting System


Australia’s system to account for greenhouse gas emissions from land
-
based sectors


it provides
Australia

with a comprehensive system to track and manage greenhouse gas emissions.

It is informative that the more successful of these earlier efforts
were

thematically restricted.
While
t
hose
that attempted broader coverage

found some success,
none has

yet deliv
er
ed

comprehensive,
widespread and enduring reform.

These failings
can,

in part
, be attributed
to the unique challenges posed by environmental information
itself.
Environmental information, for instance, tends not to be records based, and is not generated for
the specific purpose of supporting a constructed system, such as
a financial or

health system.
Rather
,
environmental information is collected in an attempt to
understand and model natural systems, and so
is inherently different to other types of information required and generated by governments.




9

The Hon. Ros Kelly MP.

‘Launch of the Environmental Resources Information Network and Naming of Nature Conservation House’
Canberra, 31 August 1992.



6


The diversity of sources of environmental information

also

means that the range of data needed to
inform environmental policy is increasingly broad and often extends into other thematic domains, such
as spatial and geophysical data
, as well as social and economic data
.
Hence
, using environmental
information effec
tively will always involve high levels of interagency and cross
-
government
cooperation. Licensing of environmental information also poses many challenges peculiar to this
domain, especially as the Australian Government acquires a significant amount of its
environmental
information from
other

jurisdictions.


1.5 Approach taken by the review

In developing the findings and recommendations of this review, consultations were held across the
Australian Government and with
other
selected organisations. A total of
19

Australian Government
agencies were consulted (full list in Table
2
). Face
-
to
-
face meetings with senior representatives of
agencies were held in most cases
;

those consulted were asked to provide written submissions
. They
were
also given the opportunity
to comment on th
e

draft
report.

Additionally, the Cooperative Research Centre for Spatial Information and the Integrated Marine
Observing System, which each represent major collaborative government investment in environmental
information or related areas,

were included in the consultation
s
. AusGOAL, the interjurisdictional
Australian Governments Open Access and Licensing framework initiative, was also consulted.

The consultations directly informed the review but this report only makes explicit and attribu
table
reference to material that was subsequently presented in an agency’s written submission. This method
was chosen to ensure that the consultations
could

be conducted in a frank and open manner, in line
with the review’s focus on whole
-
of
-
government processes rather than individual agencies’ practices.
In addition to the consultation process, a wide range of background information was also considered,
incl
uding previous reviews in related areas

and

current publications and reports of environmental
information
-
related initiatives.

Agencies were selected for consultation based on their membership of the Australian Government
Environmental Information Advisory

Group as
they

had already been identified as engaging in
environmental information activity as part of their business. The Office of the Australian Information
Commissioner, the Australian Government Information Management Office and the Australian
Instit
ute of Health and Welfare were also consulted as experts on Australian Government information.
Consultations with AusGOAL, the Cooperative Research Centre for Spatial Information and the
Integrated Marine Observation System were held after these organisati
ons were recommended by
others as experts on some aspect of the review.





7


Table
2
.

Australian Government agencies consulted by the review


Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS)

Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW)

Bureau of Meteorology (BoM)

Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research
Organisation (CSIRO)

Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries
(DAFF)

Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency
(DCCEE)

Department of Defence (Defence)

Department of Finance and
Deregulation (DoFD)

Department of Health and Aging (DoHA)

Department of Industry, Innovation, Science, Research
and Tertiary Education (DIISRTE)

Department of Infrastructure and Transport (DIT)

Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (PM&C)

Department of Regional Australia, Local Government,
Arts and Sport (DRALGAS)

Department of Resources, Energy and Tourism (DRET)

Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water,
Population and Communities (DSEWPaC)

Department of the Treasury (Treasury)

Geoscience Australia


Murray
-
Darling Basin Authority (MDBA)

Office of the Australian Information Commissioner
(OAIC)



1.6 Structure of the report

This report has necessarily broken down the issues identified into major categories
:

cultural,
structural,

financial,

technical
and
legal.
Such

division is not intended to downplay the complex
interactions between the factors identified under these headings. Consequently, the order in which
these chapters appear indicates our view that some causal relationship

exists between factors.
Cultural issues, for example, ultimately underpin funding models


where policy time

scales are short,
funding provided by policy agencies to undertake environmental information collection will also tend
to be
of
short duration. St
ructural arrangements for sharing between agencies also reflect the cultural
environment in which they are created, and while technical and legal barriers are often cited as factors
that inhibit sharing, the tools generally exist to overcome these

barriers

provided
that
the cultural and
structural incentives to do so are strong.

Sections 2

6 outline the major issues that we found to be currently impeding an efficient whole
-
of
-
Australian Government approach to environmental information, and recommend action
s to overcome
them
. Section 7 outlines a vision for how the elements encompassed by our recommendations may
work together to create a functioning system, with reference to examples in other thematic domains
(health and
overseas
aid) as well as other
jurisdictions
,

both domestic and international. A summary of
the review’s recommendations is provided after the executive summary.




8


2. Cultural
i
ssues

2.1 The challenges

Australian Government environmental information activity is, generally speaking, too

little informed
by policy need. A
dditionally, a
gencies often decide to undertake environmental information activity on
an ad

hoc basis, leading to a fragmented information base that cannot always be used effectively to
determine long
-
term trends
or

evalua
te policy effectiveness. There certainly are areas of good
practice, but the lack of a coordinated approach at the whole
-
of
-
government level ensures that these
are not the norm. The consequences of this are duplication and overlap leading to inefficiencies

in
investment.

Agencies that concentrate on
producing and providing
scientific or te
chnical information (here,

‘information provider
s

) tend to have business practices and cultures

that are different

to

those
agencies that are responsible for developing and implementing policy (here, ‘policy agencies’).
Examples were given to the review of these cultures failing to communicate with each other, with
technical jargon on both sides forming a language barrier
. Coordination across these two cultures of
policy portfolios and information providers, as well as across the silos of portfolios and jurisdictions, is
the major challenge in building an agile environmental information system able to respond to the fast
-
e
volving complexity of environmental policy challenges ahead.

While many policy agencies contain an internal analytic capacity (see also
S
ection 3.1.3)
,

those units
tend to share more in common with the information provider agencies, which can lead to simi
lar
coordination difficulties within the agencies themselves. Symptoms of these difficulties are outlined
below and in the chapters that follow. The causes of these problems are complex and intertwined, and
addressing them will require significant goodwill

and long
-
term commitment.

2.1.1 Information to support evidence
-
based policy

Enthusiasm for evidence
-
based policy has been steadily growing during the last decade


in

both

the
United Kingdom
and

the United States of America,
governments have expressed
i
deals of ‘fact’
-
based

rather than ‘fad’
-
based policy. Australia has not been immune; the then
p
rime
m
inister stated in an
address to senior public servants in April 2008 that

policy design and policy evaluation should be
driven by analysis of all the avai
lable options and not by ideology

10
. Answering this challenge for
environmental policy has been difficult, despite long and significant investment in environmental
information.

Evidence
-
based policy is a process that transparently uses rigorous and tested

evidence in the design,
implementation and refinement of policy to meet designated policy objectives
.
11

Applied to the
environmental arena, this
can
be translated into a conceptual cycle
that

begins with understanding of
the
present
state of the
environment. From this, best practice environmental management of risks and
thresholds can be designed. Activities governed by policies and programs are then undertaken which
lead to

the

collection of data on the effects of these activities. Finally, these

data should feed back to
refine not only the policy or program but also

an

understanding of the state of the environment.

Environmental information is lagging behind economic and social information in its organisation and
availability across government.
This may be due, in part, to the complexity of dealing with natural
systems, but it is also a result of a culture that allows or even causes investment in environmental
information to be disconnected from policy goals and evaluation. The consequences and p
olitical costs
of such disconnection can be significant. Funding is often provided for policy on the basis of
environmental benefit, yet that benefit may not be demonstrable because of the inability to



10

The Hon. Kevin Rudd MP. ‘Address to Heads of Agencies and members of Senior Executive Service’ Great Hall, Parliament House C
an
berra
April 30 2008.

11

Productivity Commission
,

2010
.

Strengthening Evidence
-
based policy in the Australian Federation
,
Volume 2: Background Paper
.

Canberra
:

Productivity
Commission.



9


interrogate the relevant environmental information. Ar
guably, a major difficulty of the policy debate
surrounding the Murray
-
Darling Basin Plan is a result of the
challenge of showing quantifiable
environmental benefits of the policy while imposing costs on stakeholders.

2.1.2 Utility of existing environment
al information

In consultation for the review, many agencies expressed surprise that the state of environment report
produced every five years as a requirement under the
Environment Protection and Biodiversity
Conservation Act 1999

(EPBC Act) is not treate
d as an audit of the government’s environmental
policies and programs. There was often a perception that the report should be used to determine the
effectiveness of interventions under national investment programs such as Caring for our Country. A
future g
oal of such reporting may be to examine these policies, to guide future information needs and
to inform future policy directions
,

but to do so will require a significantly improved information base.

Several

jurisdiction
s

also produce a state of environmen
t report, in most cases also as a statutory
requirement. The formats and reporting styles vary between jurisdictions as do the chosen indicators
and focus of the reports. While some of this can be explained by regional differences requiring
different param
eters to be measured, a significant advantage is lost in not being able to make core
comparisons across jurisdictions. The
2008 OECD Environmental Performance Review of Australia
12

found that this variance between jurisdictions, along with inconsistencies i
n data collection, made the
aggregation of information collected by different levels of government difficult. At a national level, the
Australia State of Environment 2006
13

report found that:

It is still impossible to give a clear national picture of the
state of Australia’s environment because
of the lack of accurate, nationally consistent, environmental data. This has particularly serious
consequences for identification and management of Australia’s biodiversity, coasts and oceans,
and natural and cultur
al heritage. Better time
-
series and spatial data are needed across almost
every environmental sector.

The problem with a lack of nationally consistent data had not markedly improved for the
Australia
State of Environment 2011
14

report.

It is a lack of stra
tegic and targeted environmental information rather than a lack of information that is
the problem. Many agencies consulted
as part of

the review mentioned examples where the
government is seemingly awash in environmental information for which the policy a
nalysis layer is
either unclear or absent. Policy agencies in turn find themselves needing to invest in the collection of
new information in order to answer policy questions while provider agencies find it difficult to discover
and predict those policy nee
ds.

There are often difficulties in identifying the tangible policy demand for the information that is being
collected. In fact, there sometimes appears to be poor rationale for collection: provider agencies
consider data they collect useful for a range o
f reasons, but may not ask, prior to engaging in data
collection, who the end
-
users are, what they want to know, whether the data will help with the policy
problem, and how the information might be repurposed for future use.

Of particular concern is that t
he environmental information generated by agencies’ policies, programs
and regulatory processes is not usually captured in a format or manner that allows for reuse. This
information represents a significant resource and a key step in the conceptual cycle o
utlined
previously. Unlocking the value of this information asset requires a good architectural understanding



12

Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development
, 2008
.
OECD Environmental Performance Reviews: Australia (2008).
Paris: OECD
.

13

Beeton RJS (Bob), Buckley Kristal I, Jones Gary J, Morgan Denise, Reichelt Russell E, Trewin Denis (2006 Australian State of
the Environment
Committee)
,

2006
.

Australia State of the E
nvironment 2006
, Independent report to the Australian Government Minister for the Environment
and Heritage
.

Canberra
:
Department of the Environment and Heritage.

14

State of the Environment 2011 Committee, 2011.
Australia State of the Environment 2011.
Independent report to the Australian
Government Minister for Sustainability Environment, Water,
Population and Communities.

Canberra: DSEWPaC.



10


of the business activity of the agency as well as involving some technica
l challenges (see also
S
ection

5
).

Information that is held by government is often
not readily discoverable
. Many
officials of
policy
agencies expressed frustration that there is no simple way to review what environmental information
is being collected and held across the government. MDBA s
tated that
it has

been challenged by the
lack of clear catalogues from existing and recognised sources such as BoM, ABS and G
eoscience
A
ustralia
, with the landscape further confused by new initiatives.

In the absence of a clear policy lead, research intere
sts tend to drive the collection and generation of
environmental information by provider agencies. The usefulness
, for policy agencies,

of environmental
information thus gathered
can be

limited due to its acquisition outside of a policy framework.
Research

is often curiosity
-
driven and may have international concerns beyond an Australian focus.
These characteristics distinguish it from the sort of environmental information required by
government, which is decision

driven and for the most part relies on esta
blished science and quality
datasets with long time
-
series. Information from provider and research agencies can often drive policy
,
but analytic capacities within policy departments are presently the critical engines of this relationship.


Transitioning ne
w observation sources from an initial research phase into an ongoing state of
collection and recording is also challenging. The National Collaborative Research Infrastructure
Strategy represents major government investment in research, including into many
areas of
environmental information. In some cases, research driven by this program has matured to the stage
where continued monitoring would contribute efficiently and effectively to a defined national need.
Research entities are not suited, nor mandated,
to be long
-
term data custodians and in this case have
only short
-
term programmatic funding.

Without sufficient planning t
o

allow for the transition of key datasets to those institutions that have
ongoing funding and
a
mandate for the collection of informa
tion, the investment made in them can be
lost. Strategic oversight is necessary to guide transition of useful operational components. It may also
be necessary for future research programs to identify the potential for these datasets to be developed,
includ
ing planning for how operational functions will be maintained.

2.1.3 Clear roles and responsibilities

Agencies commented on the lack of clarity of roles and responsibilities for environmental information
across government. This also makes it difficult for

policy agencies both to identify the best source of
information when it is required and to discover what information already exists. In the worst cases, the
review heard of this confusion resulting in provider agencies selling policy agencies information
already available in the public domain. Where new information is required by a policy user, this can
lead to competition between provider agencies over resources and questions
about the

roles and
responsibilities
of

the competing providers.

From discussio
ns with agencies it is clear that a culture of organisations hoarding whatever
responsibilities they have acquired is leading to multiple provider agencies engaging in the same
activity, without clear boundaries to discourage duplication. Thus, the informa
tion effort is spread
thinly


at the expense of fewer, better quality datasets. What is lacking is the strategic guidance
needed to assess the relative merits of time
-
series data versus ad hoc data and to develop a unified
vision of which datasets are mos
t important to policy.

2.1.4 Clear policy priorities