Keep an eye out for Australia’s open budget

We’ve now suffered through most of the fun and games of budget leaking season this year, with the 2014-15 Australian Government budget now in its final ‘straight’.

There were a variety of balloons floated, claims and counterclaims touted, promises apparently broken (or not, depending on who you listen to) and all the usual suspects wheeling out to give us their authoritarian views on how budget changes would break or make Australia.

This year it has even been capped off by images of the Finance Minister and Treasurer enjoying a relaxing cigar as their departmental teams work frantically behind the scenes to get the final planks of the budget in place.

In other words, it’s been largely business as usual for the Australian Government budget process – following the same pattern that’s been followed for thirty or more years.

There have, of course, been some changes.

The communications channels used to inform people about the budget have shifted slightly (though not as much as they could), and the community has become far more visible in its budget consultations through the widespread adoption of online social channels – though politicians and traditional media have remain largely one-way broadcasters, rather than embracing the opportunity to engage.

Some government agencies have also adapted their strategies for informing the public – using social media to broadcast their budget statements and to engage online in so far as to correct misunderstandings and address myths and beliefs which are not supported by budget papers.

In the last few years Australia even stepped to the world leading position of releasing much of the budget papers under creative commons licensing (now the standard copyright for the Australian Government) – with this stimulating the creation of new ways to view the budget, such as The OpenBudget and BudgetAus.

These services are still relatively new and have suffered from the inaccessibility of the PDF documents used to publish the reusable budget data – meaning the creators of these tools had to scrape PDFs for data, manually type or check every figure, to get a realistic budget view.

However this year, in another world first, the Australian Government budget is set to be largely released in spreadsheet formats.

A team of public servants in Finance and Treasury is aggregating all the budget numbers from a range of agencies and releasing it in an aggregated way that is easy for others to reuse.

This is a huge step forward and opens the gate to a range of community and media visualisations of the budget at a far lower commitment of effort than was possible in previous years.

So keep an eye out in the coming days for some of the budget projects that are created using this open data.

I’ll try to list them in this blog in the days following the budget’s release.

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