As a fabulous seasonal gesture of good will to all, and leadership in information management in the digital era, the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) are giving Australian’s their statistics back.

On 18 December, the ABS released it’s website content for re-use under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Australia licence. As Australia’s official statistical body and conductor of the annual census, the ABS is the single largest repository of data on the Australian population, economy and lifestyle. All of this information is now available for you to re-use for any purpose – including commercial – as long as you attribute the ABS.

The ABS has long been a leader in providing open access to public sector information – they’ve had an amazing number of tools and fact sheets available online at no charge for years. The extra step of making these materials available under an open content licence means that this data, all of which has been paid for by the Australian public purse, can now be readily (and legally) accessed, disseminated and re-purposed without having to go through lengthy copyright clearance processes. Researchers, schools, businesses, artists – anyone really – can now build upon and add value to ABS materials to the benefit of Australia’s knowledge, education and economy as a whole.

Not only has the ABS released their material under the broadest possible Creative Commons licence, they’ve also used best practice implementation standards. The Attribution licence button (which links back to the full licence terms) appears on every page of their website, as well as their copyright page. They have an information page about Creative Commons, explaining how it works and why they’ve chosen to use it. And they’ve even provided attribution documentation, providing valuable guidance for anyone wishing to use their material.

The ABS move is only one (though a very significant one for Australia) of a number of recent developments in the international movement to provide public access to publicly funded resources. It follows the recommendation of the Venturous Australia Innovation Review that ‘material released for public information by Australian governments should be available under a creative commons licence’, and the release of the OECD’s Seoul Declaration for the Future of the Information Economy, which endorses open access to government information. More directly, it follows the example set by Barack Obama, who has released his campaign materials and transition website under a Creative Commons Attribution licence.

Hopefully this move by the ABS will provide an example for other Australia government bodies, and will be the beginning of a new age of openness, transparency and innovation for the Australian public sector.

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