I was chatting last week with Elliott Fan, a new colleague in the SPEAR centre at ANU, who asked about how he should go about getting access to the microdata from the Australian Labour Force Survey. When I told him that he couldn’t, and that Australia doesn’t let any researchers see the labour force survey microdata, he laughed out loud. It reminded me of how ridiculous it is that Australia – unlike Canada, the US and UK – bars access to this survey. Nearly as bizarre as the fact that we have one survey that asks about employment (the Labour Force Survey), and an entirely different survey (the Employee Earnings and Hours Survey) that asks about wages.
This isn’t just an issue for those of us in Ivory Towers. The quality of last year’s minimum wage debate could have been much better if more researchers had access to good data. And if we didn’t ban international researchers from access to any ABS data, then when we pay them thousands of dollars to fly here and give keynote speeches at conferences, then their papers might be entitled "The US and Australia: A Comparison on Issue X", rather than "Understanding the US Experience on Issue X". When plenty of researchers around the world are prepared to do free policy research for us, it’s daft to be denying them access to our data.