A map of automated decision-making in the NSW Public Sector: A special report under section 31 of the Ombudsman Act 1974 – tabled in Parliament

08 Mar 2024

The NSW Ombudsman’s report A map of automated decision-making in the NSW Public Sector (ADM mapping report) has been tabled in Parliament today.

The special report under section 31 of the Ombudsman Act 1974 is an initiative by the NSW Ombudsman to increase visibility in the use of automated decision-making systems (ADM systems) across the NSW public sector. It represents the first attempt in New South Wales to comprehensively identify and publish the ways in which the public sector is using, or planning to use, ADM systems in the performance of their functions. The report includes a list of 275 ADM systems – including artificial intelligence (AI) tools – reported to be in use, or planned to be used across the NSW public sector.

With research undertaken by the ARC Centre of Excellence on Automated Decision-Making and Society (ADM+S), the ADM mapping report draws together and analyses information gathered directly from agencies, as well as information available in the public domain about the use of ADM systems in the NSW state and local government sectors.

The research was undertaken as a voluntary collaboration with NSW public sector agencies. Local councils were also invited to participate.

“We believe that members of the public whose rights and interests have been materially affected by a decision made with the use of ADM, are entitled to be informed of the role ADM played in that decision,” said NSW Ombudsman, Paul Miller.

“Visibility is necessary for people to properly consider and exercise any decision review rights as well as for proper oversight. It is also key to supporting an informed debate about what assurance and regulatory frameworks may be appropriate for ADM use now and into the future,” said Mr Miller.

The analysis by the research team reinforces the relevance and validity of the issues raised in the NSW Ombudsman’s 2021 report The new machinery of government: using machine technology in administrative decision-making. That report analysed the use of ADM systems in government and explored how administrative law applies to decision-making that relies on, or utilises automated technology. It also sought to provide guidance on good administrative practice in the context of these technologies, highlighting the importance of government agencies being accountable for the lawful, transparent and fair use of ADM systems.

“Although this mapping project has produced a point-in-time overview of ADM usage, we echo the research team’s view that voluntary public reporting will not be sufficient to ensure comprehensive and continuing visibility of ADM use across the public sector going forward.

“We hope that all departments, agencies and local councils that have contributed to this research will find the report analysis and insights of value, and useful as they continue to consider and pursue their own current and future ADM projects,” said Mr Miller.

The ARC Centre of Excellence on Automated Decision-Making and Society (ADM+S) is a cross-disciplinary, national research centre funded by the Australian Research Council (ARC), which aims to create the knowledge and strategies necessary for responsible, ethical, and inclusive automated decision-making.

“This project has been a unique and really exciting opportunity to provide some transparency around how automated decision-making systems are being used in government in NSW,” said Professor Kimberlee Weatherall, Professor of Law, The University of Sydney Law School and Chief Investigator, ARC Centre of Excellence on Automated Decision-Making and Society.

“We’ve found that automation is widespread and increasing, across both state government and local councils. Our hope is that we’ve provided useful insights into where automation is at in NSW, as well as a basis for a better informed, ongoing conversation about automation and artificial intelligence in government”, said Prof Weatherall.

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