Aussie agencies accused of locking out open source

An Australian senator has hit out at commonwealth purchasing agencies for favouring proprietary software

Australian Democrat senator Brian Greig yesterday accused commonwealth purchasing agencies of maintaining a closed shop favouring proprietary software.

Greig's comments kicked off parliamentary debate over a bill the senator formally put before the Senate yesterday for legislation designed to promote the use of open source software in commonwealth departments.

Addressing critics of the bill, who contend that the legislation it contains is protectionist and restricts freedom of choice, Greig said that the bill was needed to address a pre-existing favouritism for proprietary software within the federal government.

Greig argued that departments were being locked into a dependency on proprietary software. He claimed that current government record-keeping systems already predominantly rely on proprietary software and file formats. According to Greig, the hand-in-glove relationship between the two meant the government was affectively "addicted" to the proprietary software.

"This closed-shop protectionism can only be to the detriment of competition in the marketplace," said Greig.

Greig today conceded his own submissions meant that it would be difficult to wean the federal government off proprietary software. However, he said that the legislation was taking a long term view of government.

"There will be departments not in existence now that will evolve in the future," said Greig, adding: "The things we're doing at the moment in terms of data collection and retrieval are going to impact 20 to 40 years down the track".

The private members' bill that Greig foreshadowed in July and tabled in Parliament yesterday aims to make federal IT procurement agencies more accountable for their software purchase decisions.

Greig's move to promote open-source software parallels efforts by state-level Democrat senator Ian Gilfillen, who introduced a similar Bill to the South Australian parliament in June.

Both bills attracted the attention of a US software industry lobby group, which claims to be backed by developers working in both proprietary and open-source fields, the Initiative for Software Choice (ISC).

ISC policy counsellor, Mike Wendy, said that the bill would limit the number of solutions available to government IT decision makers and not be in the best interest of the Australians.

Under the legislation proposed by Greig, the Financial Management and Accountability Act 1997 would be amended to compel IT managers to consider open source software "wherever practicable".

Each agency will also have to provide, with reasons, a schedule of its decision to purchase proprietary software in its annual report.

"We only urge (and respectfully at that) that they do not go the 'preference' route. That is, [governments] already have all the tools they need to make the choices they need to make because the market is exceedingly competitive (by almost any measure) -- laws will not enhance that," said Wendy.