Open source push reflects need for FTA action: Lundy

Summary:Even modest adoption of open source software could trim 2.5 percent from the government's IT spend, Labor senator and shadow minister for IT Kate Lundy told approximately 150 gathered attendees in a broad keynote speech that kicked off the AUUG'2004 conference in Melbourne yesterday.

Even modest adoption of open source software could trim 2.5 percent from the government's IT spend, Labor senator and shadow minister for IT Kate Lundy told approximately 150 gathered attendees in a broad keynote speech that kicked off the AUUG'2004 conference in Melbourne yesterday.

Lundy's speech, delivered to an audience composed primarily of developers - there wasn't a suit or necktie in sight - touched on everything from the merits of open source to the pending Free Trade Agreement (FTA) and the difficulties of removing Vegemite from furniture.

Praise of open source wasn't wasted on the gathered crowd, for whom the Australian UNIX and Open Systems User Group has prepared a three-day conference focused on open source, identity management and other security issues. The conference includes myriad technical sessions and how-tos, as well as an array of case studies and - spaced evenly throughout the program - representatives of the Democrats, Australian Greens, and ALP.

While they won't be in the room at the same time, each political candidate will be espousing their view for governmental use of open source applications, a topic that's gained particular political currency this year after pro-open source legislation passed the ACT General Assembly and the spectre of FTA-driven changes to intellectual property laws pushes many to debate the issue of source code ownership.

Lundy was full of questions about the government's potential benefit from open source, noting that fully 80 percent of departments had proved "incapable of providing a consistent data set for comparison" of their ICT spending. She conceded that the broad variety of usage models across government had made predictions about open source's benefits difficult.

The 2.5 percent figure would, she argued, come over the next four years "attached to a policy of the assertive promotion of the strengths of open source software" within government. Other potential benefits included improved security, flexibility to manage change internally and freedom from vendor lock-in - which occasioned the Vegemite reference, in which Lundy likened vendor lock-in to an upholstery cleaner who feared lawsuits from the sofa manufacturer if he circumvented a manufacturer-designed locking system to clean a sofa cover stained by the offending spread.

Questions about how much the much-maligned US Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) would influence post-FTA changes to intellectual property laws fuelled Lundy's argument that an FTA-hungry Australia shouldn't blindly accept US-driven changes to its legislation.

Lundy didn't miss the opportunity to pan the Liberals' handling of the deal: "The agreement [targets] harmonisation of IP, and this has been interpreted in Australia as a requirement to harmonise our laws with the US laws," she said. "We can pretty well assume that Australia was passively negotiating".

Her speech ended with a call to action, in which she encouraged open discussion on the issue during the two-year transition period specified within the FTA. Hinting at a more proactive Labor policy should the Latham-led party seize power in October, Lundy reiterated how important it is that Australia not take changes to IP laws - which many also fear could be used to threaten use of open source in government and out - lying down.

"We punch well above our weight in terms of legislation," she said. "Why not take this head on" by proactively working with the US to smooth out potential DMCA-induced wrinkles. "It's important that Australia take this harmonisation sentiment and argue for the merit and validity of our [IP] rights system".

Topics: Open Source, Linux, Software

About

As large as the US mainland but with a smaller population than Texas, Australia relies on ICT innovation to maintain its position as a first-world democracy and a role model for the developing Asia-Pacific region. Award-winning journalist David Braue has covered Australia’s IT and telecoms sectors since 1995 – and he’s as quick to draw le... Full Bio

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