Productivity Commission's data report published 24 hours before the budget

By David Tuckwell on Tuesday 9 May 2017

Opinion

Why has the influential government advisor's report been published so close to the budget?

The influential Productivity Commission's report on data laws has been published, the timing of which looks highly political.

The Productivity Commission’s final report on Australian data laws was released yesterday, laying out recommendations for how data can be used to improve the national economy. 

But in timing that looks suspect, the report has been published the day before the federal budget, while national news media are in Canberra under “lock up”. 

(Lock up is an Australian peculiarity, where media reporting the budget are prevented from leaving parliament until the budget has been publicly announced.)

The decision on when productivity commission reports are published falls with the Australian government - not the commission. 

The report comes as Treasurer Scott Morrison has strongly hinted that open data standards will be given a green light in today's budget in order to boost banking competition. 

The position hinted by the Treasurer appears to be at odds with the recommendations of the commission. The commission has called steps towards mandatory data sharing “premature” and advised that any transition should be driven by market forces, not government intervention.

Data laws are politically sensitive and have been fought over within the financial services industry itself, as well as the major political parties. 

Fintech companies have strongly supported mandatory credit reporting, saying customers should own their credit data and forcing banks to share it would increase competition. 

They were also subject to positioning from major parties in the 2016 election: the Labor Party supported while the Liberals, Mr Morrison’s party, opposed. 

In a further curiosity, if Mr Morrison does go ahead with mandatory credit reporting, as his comments to the press have suggested he may, then in addition to sidestepping the productivity commission, he will also be adopting a policy from the opposition's playbook. 

Commenting on the commission’s report, Amy Ciolek of Ashurst Associates said that the report’s contents were less important than its politics.

“The report contains nothing firm, just recommendations. What matters is what the government does with them,” she said. 

“If there is a regulatory outcome, it will likely go through a specific consultation process.

 
“At this early stage, the report seems a bit toothless”.

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