They ranged from the highly graphic (like this flash-based atlas of public health data) to the promising but dysfunctional (this ‘Geo Map’ database would not work in any of my browsers), to the slightly intimidating (but rich) Bureau of Stats national economic data collection and the fascinating but out-of-date (like this ‘baseline’ data on Australian water resources).
Technically a hodge-podge of flash maps, tabular data and impenetrable html forms; an apparent salad of underlying data-structures; inconsistent representation, no apparent attempt at government-wide meta-data; many of the reports were the result of a single survey rather than an historical collection. I found few data archives and predominantly technical rather than policy-oriented data. Why aren’t there data on customs clearances, or quarantine inspections?… It impossible to avoid the conclusion that Australian government on-line data provision is a mess.
But it’s also true that we get the government we demand. Here, too, the United States is showing the way. This wiki compiled by Wired Magazine is a great resource, identifying data collections that can, and should be digitized (most are, already) and made available to a consistent and catalogued collection on the web.