Posted by Davina Jackson on 10 Jul 2014

Geoscience Australia's national elevation modelling.

Geoscience Australia’s terrain elevation modelling, one layer of the new National Map.

Australia’s Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull has launched the beta of a new open access ‘National Map’ of Australia. His announcement yesterday (9 July 2014) is here.

The ‘National Map Open Data Initiative’ (NM) has been organised by his department’s spatial policy group to proof of concept stage, with geospatial experts from NICTA, Geoscience Australia, the Bureau of Meteorology and other government agencies. It follows Geoscience Australia’s digital geological map launched (‘as a baseline’) in December 2008.

The Department of Finance’s GovHack community (creative data manipulators competing in annual hackathons) is being encouraged to develop useful and innovative applications for the new virtual environment. GovHack 2014 is being held across various cities this weekend (11-13 July 2014).

At this stage, NM users can visualise via the National Map datasets collected at data.gov.au, political boundaries from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, and extensive Geoscience Australia location data on diverse geographic features such as terrain elevations, layouts of streets, pipelines, railways etc, areas of native vegetation and water, as well as population information. By default, the NM uses Microsoft Bing (not Google Earth) as its imagery provider but NICTA claimed that any similar imagery server software could be used for the system.

Minister Turnbull said the NM project ‘sends a clear message to our industries, global competitors and partners that Australia is open for business. The Map is part of the Government’s commitment to increasing the number of publicly available datasets.’

Comment: Announcement of the National Map appears to both confirm and contradict our report earlier this week that Commonwealth government agencies are abandoning their earlier interest in the ‘Virtual Australia’ vision. In one way, VA is still on track as a national monitoring and modelling concept – yet federal agencies may be avoiding use of a term that is now being promoted by non-government enterprises and government-funded research agencies. Also ‘National Map’ is a more familiar term than ‘Virtual Australia’ for technology-phobic members of the public to appreciate.