Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Speech to the Locate14 Conference

Download PDFDownload PDF

The Hon Malcolm Turnbull MP

Minister for Communications

Locate14 Conference

7 April 2014

Good morning.

It's a pleasure to be here for the first Locate14 conference and exhibition and I thank the Survey and Spatial Sciences Institute (SSSI), the Spatial Industries Business Association (SIBA) and my department, the Department of Communications, for organising this important event.

It's also fantastic to see the industry working together to deliver this conference, in what I'm sure is the first of many events to come.


I've talked previously about the social and economic opportunities presented by data, data so large and complex - 'big data' - that it would have been impossible to identify meaningful trends merely a decade or so ago.

Of course, our ability to draw new and meaningful insights from messy, seemingly random, information is possible today due to the tremendous growth in processing power, and the relative affordability of storing transmitting data.

It's not a coincidence that the explosion in the volume of stored information in the world, estimated to be around 1200 exabytes in 2013, coincides with the fact that it is cheaper today to store, process and analyse data than it ever has been.1

These developments underpin our ability to 'datafy' location - to measure, store and, importantly, utilise location data like never before.

Our desire to accurately measure and quantify location isn't a new one. The Ancient Greeks, around 200 B.C., invented a system of grid lines, similar to modern day latitude and longitude; but it was not until centuries later, at the International Meridian Conference of 1884, that universal agreement was reached to standardise latitude and longitude.2

But even though there was a universally agreed measure to identify location, the cost to actually record and store information of this kind was so prohibitively expensive that it rarely was - that is, captured and stored in any meaningful way.3

Fast-forward to today and we're able to datafy location in near real time through the use of GPS and sensor technology, which can be stored and processed relatively cheaply, and safely I might add.

Like other forms of data, these changes have led to an explosion in the capture, storage and analysis of spatial information, of location data, which can now be harnessed in novel ways - to unlock value like never before.

And it's not only the private sector that can capitalise on this explosion in location data. The benefits are also readily available to government which can deliver better, more targeted services. Take for a moment the example of an emergency services worker - let's say an ambulance on route to an emergency request at 100 Brown Street. Now let's assume for a moment that there are 200 addresses in Brown Street. The assumption, a reasonable one I might add, is property 100 is likely to be located 50 per cent, or half way down the street. The ambulance operator might also reasonably assume that because properties with an even number are located on the right hand side of the street and properties with an odd number are located on the left, 100 Brown Street must be located half way down the street and on the right hand side. If only all residential streets were developed with this level of consistency and precision! But we know this is rarely the case.

In reality, 100 Brown Street may be located near the end of the street and on the left hand side. This would present a challenge to an emergency services worker, to the ambulance operator, where minutes and seconds could be the difference between life and death. But thanks to the relative affordability of location technology, of GPS, and the ease to capture, store and recall location data on demand, it now only takes the ambulance operator a few seconds to fix the precise location of 100 Brown Street.

And despite the benefits to government, there's no question the private sector has been quick to exploit the tremendous potential of location information - of spatial data. Take for a moment the example of smartphone applications. Let's say you've downloaded a new app - perhaps a banking application or Google Maps - and opened it for the first time. When was the last time you weren't asked whether the app could 'use your current location'? I certainly can't recall!

Many apps have made it their business to know a consumer's location, to aggregate location information to reveal trends - to reveal consumer's preferences. This is a powerful direct marketing tool, particularly if an app identifies that you're approaching a retail outlet that you're likely to be interested in, for example, and sends you a notification or alert.4

Expectations of spatial data

Expectations have become incredibly high in a relatively short amount of time when it comes to the power of GPS, of sensor technology, to fix a location, to identify objects quickly and with a high degree of accuracy. This expectation coincides with the relative affordability and quality of GPS devices.

But even more broadly, look at the search for flight MH370 - the missing Malaysian airline. Cutting edge location information and spatial data analysis has enabled a targeted search in the southern Indian Ocean that, not long ago, would have been considered impossible. In 1935, when Charles Kingsford Smith went down searchers accepted pretty quickly that they wouldn't be able to find the wreckage.

Today though, it is beyond many people's comprehension that we weren't able to locate the plane immediately - that more than one month on, despite some excellent leads, the world's satellites have not been able to identify the plane's exact location.

Modern spatial technology - GPS, sensor technology - has driven a monumental shift in human behaviour - an expectation that being able to access accurate spatial information about any object, regardless of its location, no matter how remote, is now a given.

Spatial data and government

Managing these expectations is an issue, particularly for Government which collects and stores vast volumes of spatial data.

Government is in a unique position as the only organisation that has the power to compel people to provide it with information. But the question is, the fundamental question, is government best placed to exploit this data - to analyse it, to drive new insights, to add value? It's often argued that government - I'm talking about government in a generic sense - lacks the imagination and there's a lack of incentives for it to add true value to the immense data it holds.5

There's some truth to this argument, no question, but we need to view the data we collect as part of the national information infrastructure and managed appropriately.

Government's management of data, of spatial information in particular, has been fragmented due to legacy governance and technical arrangements.

We need to lead here, not only in the better regulation and management of data, but also in our vision for the way it's used. No single data custodian is equipped to resolve national information management coordination, but government leadership is essential given a key responsibility of government is to provide a framework that allows business to operate effectively and efficiently.

Take for example the management of privacy legislation. Inconsistent, fragmented and multi-layered privacy regulation has muddied the compliance waters. Legal complexity has regularly gotten in the way of information sharing between government agencies, and between agencies and organisations.

The de-personalisation of business-essential information can both protect individual rights and stimulate economic activity if data owners and users are confident in the framework of privacy protections. While jurisdictions have made various degrees of progress in achieving maturity for their spatial information frameworks, there is still a long way to go.

Government and open data

Government has tended to see the data we collect as by-product of what we do, rather than as an initiator of what we can do - to drive new insights, to deliver more targeted customer services.

The value of data, of location information, is latent. It requires innovative analysis to realise the benefits. To extract the most value from data held by government we need to make it readily available to the private sector and citizens - to make it truly open.

We are committed to regularly publishing the data we hold - and that we publish much more of it in machine readable form.

Our record to date has been pretty poor, but we're committed, and we will catch up with the likes of the UK and US, which has published more than 200,000 data sets.

The establishment of and the publication of the Principles on Open Public Sector Information (PSI) have been important steps in opening up the data held by Commonwealth agencies for re-use.

The current Australian Government's Principles on open public sector information state that open access should be our default position - this is consistent with the position of the US.

And, as recommended by the Government 2.0 Taskforce, the information must be truly open. So unless there are good reasons to the contrary, government information should be:

 free

 easily discoverable  based on open standards and therefore machine-readable  properly documented and therefore understandable, and  licensed to be freely reusable and transformable.

We must and we will do more to better utilise government data. There is no value to government, to society, to hold onto this information, to store it in a dusty digital cupboard somewhere. The value of government data, both spatial and otherwise, is waiting to be unleashed and I encourage agencies, I implore them, to unleash the untapped, the latent potential of the data government holds.

Changing roles

The number parties involved in generating, managing and providing spatial information has increased significantly over the past 10 years - especially in non-government sectors, where technology has empowered businesses and individuals to more cheaply collect and analyse their own data, for their own specific needs.

And both the private sector and the public are adopting a much greater role in sourcing and managing spatial information.

The private sector's role is only going to grow, as consumers become more involved, more informed and even more demanding about the amount and quality of data available. This will have a significant impact on the role of governments in managing and making available spatial information.

The private sector is beginning to compete with government sources of information. The dynamic will continue to shift.

Longer term, governments' involvement in collecting, storing and maintaining data will depend on a number of factors, including cost, market capability, and legal and security issues.

However, one area where government's role won't, or at least is unlikely to change is in the need for a reference framework of spatial information as an essential information base - both for government policy and planning and for use by the private sector.


This is where the Spatial Information Council comes in. After years of debate, ANZLIC has implemented the first - and long-awaited - comprehensive national policy framework for Australia and New Zealand. The Foundation Spatial Data Framework is the result of a very successful collaborative partnership between the nine governments of Australia, New Zealand, NICTA, the CSIRO, and the CRC for Spatial Information.

The framework provides a common reference for the assembly and maintenance of Australian and New Zealand foundation level spatial data, which, importantly, will be made available to all users of spatial information - government, industry, research and academic sectors, and the public.

Today I'm happy to announce that my department has successfully forged a Research Alliance with the Commonwealth, NICTA, CSIRO, and the CRC for Spatial Information to provide technical leadership to implement the Foundation Spatial Data Framework.

This alliance will, among other things, work to achieve:

 link to and leverage existing international and national relationships with key standards, government, industry and research communities  support to the Custodians of the Framework datasets in promoting these for Australian Government use  agreement on conditions and methods of sharing information about the Framework

modelling activities.

ANZLIC has announced 10 themes across which it will group the data, themes that will likely change and evolve over time, and will deliver a national coverage of the best-available, most current, authoritative source of foundation spatial data which is standardised and quality controlled.

One of the themes is geocoded addressing, which includes one of our most valuable datasets, the Geo-coded National Address File (G-NAF).

The G-NAF performs an essential economic function - in infrastructure planning, business planning and delivery, data verification, emergency response and personal navigation.

While the G-NAF is accurate for many of the addresses it holds, its quality can be improved. In any key dataset, lack of quality, whether actual or perceived, contributes to problems for users. This can increase business costs and prevent the data from being exploited to its full potential.

For a national dataset like this, it's essential we work together, across governments and PSMA Australia, and listen to the needs of business in order to coordinate the delivery of the best possible data. I encourage our state and territory shareholders in PSMA to work with us to achieve this level of quality improvement.

Another of the framework's themes is water. The water sector uses spatial information for:

 national water accounting  modelling and spatial analysis  mapping and visualising where water is physically located  managing water infrastructure assets  monitoring availability of water resources  delivering emergency services in flood prone areas  water security.

During my tenure as the Minister for Environment and Water Resources under the previous Coalition Government I became very alert to the ever-increasing urgency to deal with Australian water supply and security. Australia is the driest inhabited continent on Earth. Knowing where our national water assets are located and being able to detect trends in water availability and use over the seasons, years and even decades to come will be critical for our ability to effectively manage this scarce resource.

Transport's also a theme. Spatial data is being used in innovative ways to optimise the planning and delivery of services, including better asset management, navigation and logistics, safer driving, and tracking - all of which are increasing transport efficiency.

Being able to map patterns and predict trends will increase productivity and drive better outcomes across the economy. Just look at the way logistics companies, parcel operators, are optimising their delivery networks through the use of sensor technology.

This framework will ensure critical, vitally important data sets are opened up and made available to the broader economy.

Collaboration is essential as demonstrated by ANZLIC's leadership:

 Victoria has led the work on the National Address Management Framework, an information assurance program to improve data accuracy  Western Australia has managed an economic assessment of important spatial data which helped inform how governments should interact with the markets using it  NSW oversaw the development of standards, protocols and processes to ensure the delivery

of spatial support in emergencies and for crisis management planning  And every government involved has committed in-kind resourcing to the effort.

Meeting the challenges

The reality for any data custodian, government or otherwise, is that we are subject to conflicting pressures that can get in the way of actually using the data - to deliver real value.

One of the most obvious pressures is navigating the demand for more, with the demand for free. Who pays for 'free', particularly in a tight fiscal environment?

There's also pressure on government to increase the outsourcing of data management and delivery, which raises questions around viability, access and use.

Of course there are other challenges - the need to develop and enhance information management skills in both government and industry, and maintaining investment in research and development.

And privacy is often top of mind when it comes to concerns for government and the public.

The use of anonymised data, clear government policies on privacy and adequate IT security are all key methods currently being used within government to ensure we use spatial data analytics appropriately to maximise the benefits that can be derived from data - particularly when it comes to improving service delivery and efficiency.

Rising to the challenges is something I know you'll be discussing throughout the course of this conference.


Using location-based information to grow the economy through increased innovation, competitiveness and productivity is nothing new, but it's something that we, as a government, can do more to support through a strong open data agenda and a clear information management framework.

It's a pleasure to see a conference in Australia deal with these issues, including how to better use and manage spatial information in Australia and New Zealand to deliver strong economic and social outcomes.

I look forward to hearing some of the outcomes from this conference and I thank you for your time.


1 Mayer-Schonberger, Viktor and Kenneth Cukier, Big Data, (John Murray Publishers 2013), p. 9.

2 Mayer-Schonberger, Viktor and Kenneth Cukier, Big Data, (John Murray Publishers 2013), p. 87.

3 Mayer-Schonberger, Viktor and Kenneth Cukier, Big Data, (John Murray Publishers 2013), p. 87.

4 Mayer-Schonberger, Viktor and Kenneth Cukier, Big Data, (John Murray Publishers 2013), p. 90.

5 Mayer-Schonberger, Viktor and Kenneth Cukier, Big Data, (John Murray Publishers 2013), p. 116