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Greens push for open source software for government procurement

by Aleks Vickovich •
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The Australian Greens have reiterated their stance on pursuing open source software (OSS) for government procurement as part of their ICT policy ahead of the federal election.  

In an interview with ARN Greens ICT spokesperson and Senator for Western Australia Scott Ludlam said that OSS is the issue the Greens have “followed most closely” over the term of the Labor Government.  He said his party will be “pushing for open source software” if it gains the balance of power in the Senate post-election.

Senator Ludlam, who worked in graphic design and web development before entering politics, first raised the issue of open source software for government procurement at a Senate Estimates hearing in February of this year.  He questioned Government CIO Ann Steward about the commitment of federal government agencies to a whole-of-government (WofG) approach to open sourcing.

Ms Steward, who is also the head of the Australian Government Information Office (AGIMO) within the Department of Finance and Deregulation (Finance) explained that agencies are expected to “look at the suitability of open source” with respect to software and/or procurement, but that adopting OSS “is a decision for each individual agency to determine the best fit in accordance with its own existing infrastructure or technology”.  Ms Steward further proposed that “it is a matter of each agency looking from its perspective as to where it (OSS) is most suited to its environment and its strategic direction”. 

This position on OSS is somewhat at odds with the WofG approach being encouraged by the government in relation to the procurement of data centre services, telecommunications and large office machines among other existing or intended co-ordinated procurements. 

General Manager of AGIMO’s policy and planning division, Graham Fry, told the same Senate Estimates hearing that it cannot be assumed that the adoption of OSS will produce government savings.  Mr Fry explained that “agencies are obliged to consider value for money on each occasion they apply a software, and that means considering value for money between the alternatives of open source and proprietary software”.  Considering this obligation and considering that many government agencies have not implemented OSS, Mr Fry contested that “you would assume that, in many cases, it could be more expensive over the life of the software to move to open source”.   Senator Ludlam replied that perhaps assessments of OSS costs include hefty ‘transition out’ costs of exiting a closed format. 

Some agencies are moving towards OSS.  Ms Steward listed the Australian Bureau of Statistics and National Archives of Australia as agencies that currently utilise open sourcing technology. 

On 19 July 2010, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) released a Request for Tender (RFT) seeking a provider to “establish, host, support, maintain and carry out enhancements for a PHP website” that uses open source software system Drupal.

While both major parties are yet to fully outline their ICT policies going into the election, neither has flagged the development of open source software for government agencies as a priority.  This is despite the Government’s recent ‘declaration of open government’ and re-commitment of the Gillard Government to the recommendations of the Gov 2.0 taskforce, of which there were a number of recommendations around open source software methods of information storage according to AGIMO’s John Sheridan at the Senate Estimates hearing.

It was also the previous Coalition Government that first championed interest in the topic with the release of a Guide to Open Source Software for Australian Government Agencies in April 2005.  Since being in opposition the Coalition has been largely silent on this reform area.

The major parties may yet release fully-fledged policies at the upcoming ICT debate at the National Press Club on August 9.

For more information on the impact of the election result on procurement and the government ICT market join us for the:

ICT Signposts: Post Election Briefing Thursday 26 August 2010, 07:15-09:30am Venue TBC, Canberra

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  • Federal
  • Software
  • Policy
  • Ann Steward
  • Graham Fry
  • greens
  • John Sheridan
  • open source
  • scott ludlam