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   Bureau of Meteorology

The Bureau of Meteorology

 28/03/99 (updates underscored)

Note: The Auditor General's report into the operation of the Bureau of Meteorology, issued December 1999, is here.

Following two reviews by Professor Ralph Slatyer over the past three years into the operations and capacity for cost recovery within the Bureau, details of a new access regime and charges have now appeared on the Bureau's web site. These, however, are the Bureau's response to the Slatyer Report, as the Federal Government has yet to respond or set policies. It is understood that Senator Robert Hill, Minister for the Environment with direct responsibility for the Bureau, is now finalising the Government's response, so now is the time to make submissions to his office if you feel strongly that the Bureau's operations and data, which are fully funded by the public, be available freely and without onerous copyright conditions.

The second Slatyer report envisaged the Internet as being the prime direct means of distribution of Bureau products, because of its wide availability, timeliness and low cost to the Bureau. It also recommended that the range of free products gradually be enhanced as resources and technology became available. However, it now appears that the Bureau's free products will continue to be those that have comprised its basic service for at least the past 40 years, with "new" products such as radar, detailed satpix, real-time weather station reports and all computer model output only available at prices beyond the reach of the average person.

The Internet services on which the Bureau is levying charges include services for marine, aviation and farming interests, the provision of all output from the Bureau's forecasting models, all radar and most satellite imagery, and detailed weather observations, including real time observations from automatic weather stations.

The Bureau's Basic Service will continue to be free. This comprises public warnings and forecasts, restricted sets of data several hours old, and 5 satellite images, 6 simplified weather maps and 2 very simple forecast maps daily. The Basic Service is detailed at the bottom of the access regime document. Australia-wide 24-hour rainfall and temperature data and maps for the past few weeks are also freely available through the SILO initiative. The freely available data is not subject to any quality control, and missing data is not replaced.

Internet charges currently are by monthly or annual subscription, although the Bureau has indicated it is moving towards online transaction charging. For delivery via the Web, the annual fee for radar is currently $600, real-time observations $100, detailed forecast charts (from the GASP and LAPS models) $600 and hourly satellite images $600.

Quality-controlled climatic information, in the form of charts, gridpoint data, or individual station data, is available through the SILO homepage for various periods ranging from a year (daily rainfall and temperature data from the complete Australian network) to a century (monthly rainfall maps). Subscriptions to this are available for periods ranging from a month to a year, and examples of cost for a 12-month subscription are $300 for daily rainfall data, $690 for full rainfall and climatic data and $3415 for full access to gridded data sets.

A person with a significant interest in the weather, therefore, could expect to pay around $2,500 for access to forecast models, satellite images, radar, realtime and basic quality controlled data -- the basic tools required to make intelligent use of our meteorological and climatic resources. Such charges put any substantial access to this information, which is overwhelmingly funded by taxes, out of the reach of most of the population, and create an interesting precedent for the availability of governmental information. Of even greater concern is the current Bureau policy which states, on the one hand, that Bureau data "belongs to the Nation", but on the other hand severely restricts discussion and exchange of non-Basic Service weather information with stiff copyright and legal provisions. The view put by Slatyer, however, is that, unless the Bureau earns income such as this on a user pays basis, it cannot offer such services on the allocation proposed to be received from government.

We are at a crossroad in the provision of weather services in Australia. The United States believes that information and services paid for by the taxpayer should be freely available to the taxpayer, and if you follow the many links to US sites available on these web pages, you will see the dynamic weather industry that this open data policy has nurtured. The European Community has gone the other way, severely restricting the availability of weather information, and making charges for all except essential community services that only large corporations and governments can afford.

If you are concerned that the data and forecasting tools paid for by your taxes be freely available, email the Hon. Dr Sharman Stone, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for the Environment and Heritage Sentator Robert Hill, who has responsibility for the Bureau of Meteorology, at