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Chapter 6 - Data, information and systems

Key points

Decision-makers, proponents and the community do not have access to the best available data, information and science. This results in suboptimal decision-making, inefficiency and additional cost for business, and poor transparency to the community. The key reasons why the EPBC Act is not using the best available information are:

  • The collection of data and information is fragmented and disparate. There is no single national source of truth that people can rely on.
  • The right information is not available to inform decisions. Information is skewed towards western environmental science and does not adequately consider Indigenous knowledge of the environment, or social, economic and cultural information. This broader set of information is not clearly integrated to inform decisions that deliver ecologically sustainable development (ESD). Cumulative impacts and future challenges like climate change are not effectively considered.
  • The Department’s systems for information analysis and sharing are antiquated. Cases cannot be managed effectively across the full life cycle of a project, and the user experience is clunky and cumbersome for both proponents and members of the community interested in a project.

The key reform directions proposed by the Review are:

  • A national ‘supply chain’ of information is required so that the right information is delivered at the right time to those who need it. This supply chain should be an easily accessible ‘single source of truth’ on which the public, proponents and governments can rely.
  • To deliver an efficient supply chain, a clear strategy is needed so that each investment made contributes to building and improving the system over time.
  • A custodian for the national environmental information supply chain is needed. The Commonwealth should clearly assign responsibility for national level leadership and coordination. Adequate resources should be provided to develop the systems and capability that is needed to deliver the evidence base for Australia’s national system of environmental management.
  • A National Environmental Standard for information and data should set clear requirements for the provision of data and information in a way that facilitates transparency and sharing. The standard should apply to all sources of data and information, including information collected by proponents.
  • To apply granular standards to decision-making, Government needs the capability to model the environment, including the probability of outcomes from proposals. To do this well, investment is required to improve knowledge of how ecosystems operate and develop the capability to model them. This requires a complete overhaul of existing systems to enable improved information to be captured and incorporated into decision-making.

6.1 - There is no single source of truth for data and information

The collection of data and information is fragmented and disparate. There is no single national source of truth that people can rely on. This adds cost for business and government, and results in lower community trust in the process. Valuable data is often ‘locked’ in inaccessible formats, not shared or made available for further use.

6.2 - The right information is not available to inform decisions made under the EPBC Act

There is no clear avenue or expectation for the explicit consideration of Indigenous environmental knowledge, or economic or social information. Cumulative impacts and future threats, such as climate change, are not well considered. The technologies and models to analyse and gain insights from diverse and very large datasets are not broadly used.

6.3 - The Department’s information management systems are antiquated

The way the Act is administered has not kept pace with the rapid transformation in how government, businesses and people interact with technology. Departmental systems do not link with state and territory systems, and there is no single user portal.

6.4 - Proposed key reform directions

A national ‘supply chain’ of information is proposed, delivered in a strategic and coordinated way via a comprehensive roadmap. A clear custodian for the national environmental information supply chain should be responsible for overseeing the central repository (or connected repositories) of information, providing advice on standards, and coordinating national level capability for predictive modelling.