Lundy: Time is right for open source in government

Summary:Open source might get a better look-in within government, says Senator Kate Lundy, if those responsible for purchasing decisions were forced by policy to evaluate all the options on the market.

Open source might get a better look-in within government, says Senator Kate Lundy, if those responsible for purchasing decisions were forced by policy to evaluate all the options on the market.

Lundy, a long-time technology advocate, intends to champion the open source community within the newly elected Rudd government, despite being relegated to the backbench post-election.

Open source options are often neglected within government agencies by administrators that are "making decisions without testing new ideas," Lundy told the CeBIT conference.

"As Kevin Rudd has said, the natural state of bureaucracy is inertia, because inertia is the more risk-averse position," she said.

More often than not, Lundy said, the risk averse position is to use the same proprietary software suppliers that have won government contracts for many years.

Lundy held up the Australian Taxation Office, which in 2005 removed a free download of an ECI client for Linux that allowed businesses running Linux to calculate and submit BAS returns, as an example of where the ideal choice went begging in favour of maintaining the status quo.

"That's a policy problem within the ATO that needs to be rectified," she says. "It is characteristic of a decision by a Government agency to inhibit the use of open source. We have to talk about these blockages and solve them."

While AGIMO (Australian Government Information Management Office) has been recommending a more open approach, Lundy says that its advice was being ignored by many agencies.

"AGIMO has great policies on paper, really visionary thinking," Lundy told ZDNet.com.au. "But that doesn't have any teeth. Their advice needs to be taken more seriously by the heads of departments and portfolio ministers. The next step has to be a policy one."

Lundy does not support the idea of "mandatory use of open source", but she does advocate a form of competition policy. People making purchasing decisions within government should be required to "test the competitive market", she says.

"Government has to start driving the market, rather than letting the market drive [us]," she said. "The only software companies driving the market today, as we know, are those with marketing departments and lobbying budgets. We in the Government need to become smart buyers — we need to force the market to respond."

The good news, says Lundy, is that the new ALP government is embracing the idea of "openness", as exemplified by the 2020 Summit. Rudd's philosophy on governing, she says, shares some principles with open source.

"Whether you are sceptical about the 2020 Summit, or whether you thought it was a good way of reaching into the community, what I can tell you is that we got some great ideas out of it. These ideas will provide a basis for lobbying in the future."

Lundy says the time is right to approach the Federal government with new ideas.

"The opportunity right now is so real," she told ZDNet.com.au. "With any change in government, especially one after 10 years, comes the momentum of new policies and churn in the public service. That creates dynamism and the chance for substantive change."

But no new policy will result, she says, unless the open source community comes forward and has its voice heard.

"You need to get your ideas in the faces of policy makers for change to take place," Lundy said.

Topics: Government, CEBIT, Government : AU, IT Employment, Linux, Open Source

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