Lundy: Time is right for open source in government

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 "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 "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, Government AU, Linux, Open Source, CEBIT, IT Employment

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  • Swindle

    As the classic pistols song said "the time is right to do it now, the greatest rock and roll swindle" just substitute your favourite flavour of UNIX cloneware.

    The government does so little now, why provide it with tools that do not interoperate, provide clunky interfaces and wil lgenerally slow down the snail pace they have already crept up too.

    A bunch of tools pretending to be a coherant systems is still a bunch of tools
  • Open source surging ahead

    Careful, John, your ignorance is on display... I think you'd find most start ups and IT people at most large corporates and organisations (e.g. universities) would take issue with your gross generalisation.

  • Slingers

    The open source train is coming, sling all the mud you like. :)

    There's improvements to be made, granted, but opensource makes sense in a goverment, especially if situations arise where it's cheaper for them to improve the software themselves.

    Company that I work for a) doesn't care about the common good and b) like's making money (my point is the opposite of government) and yet we still find using and improving *some* opensource software is the best method.

    And I wouldn't say oss use is snowballing but it's definitely growing in the company. It's about looking at cost versus output.

    I'm not going to waste time detailing the in-ability to interoperate and clunky interfaces in *some* closed source software. You pick the best tool for the job, given your budget, and get on with it.

    Grouping oss into one pile and labeling it as John has, is ... wrong. Purely from the selfish desire to go home early and spend wads of cash I think you'd be an idiot not to consider using some oss.
  • Re: Swindle

    Ahhh, John. Still "Living in the 70's"?
  • OpenSource != Linux

    Why does every one assume that OSS means Linux?
    We use plenty of OSS here, and it all runs on windows. You don't have to be railroaded into the Linux camp just because you want to use OSS.
    The OS is a vehicle for delivering the software tools you need for business and if OSS for windows works, what's the big issue?
  • Bureaucracy & Government

    The purpose of the bureaucracy is to stop the wheels of Government moving so fast it steamrolls the peoples needs. It also employs those who cannot make it in the commercial world.

    Using Open Source could easily harm these purposes, as many of my deployments allow decision making tasks and procedures to be automated, as well as reducing the staff needed.

    So it may be better for all of us, if we leave the adoption of Open Source to Universities, schools, and commercial businesses who can understand Open Systems, cost benefits, and productivity.
  • Kate Lundy 's experience in IT = 0

    I'm sure Kate Lundy knows more than the CIOs of large organisations. After all, they've spent 20 years running and managing systems for their organisation, whereas Kate's a politician.
  • Kate's experience?

    Identify yourself Mr Conroy!

    Lundy is among the few pollies that gives a damn enough to talk up IT issues, even when its not her portfolio anymore.

    That's got to count for something.