This post was written by Rosie Williams of InfoAus.
Unlocking Budget Data in Australia: the BudgetAus CollaborationBudget transparency in Australia has recently taken a big step forward with the first ever release of federal budget data in machine readable format. Prior to this year, budget data in Australia had been locked away in PDF and Word documents. While these publications met the broad guidelines for reporting government spending to the public, analysis of government spending remained a difficult and time consuming process.
Providing information is one thing, making it usable is yet another.
Unlocking the dataAs a novice programmer with a degree in sociology and background in activism, I decided to address this problem by creating a web tool that would allow users to explore the entire federal budget. The website — BudgetAus — works in much the same way as a search engine: users can search for their areas of interest to see how much money the government is spending, regardless of the agency or portfolio in which the spending occurs.
Behind the scenes, people had been working within government to release budget data in machine readable formats (as data files). However, they faced the same set of challenges – inconsistencies in the way the data was organized by different agencies made them unsuitable for use by programmers.
|A budget visualization created using BudgetAus data. From Arthur Street’s Australian Budget Explorer.|
Where to from here?Based on this years’ experience of working with BudgetAus, the government is now designing a standard way for agencies to report spending.
While BudgetAus and its collaborators have helped to shine a light on the important issue of data consistency, there is much work that remains to be done. Answering questions such as how spending promises (estimates) differ from actual spending, and how different political parties make changes to public spending, will require retrospective data that is so far not available. To continue to build on the success of the project will require funding the formalization of a group working on these issues.
In the end it took leaders within government, the respective agencies, citizen journalists, citizen hackers, and the general public to begin a functioning budget transparency project. I hope that this is just a beginning.