Aussie MPs preach open standards for gov’t IT

A move to open source and away from proprietary information management systems will help government departments avoid steep maintenance fees and increase the longevity of data, members of the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) and South Australian parliaments said at the recent Linux open source in government conference in Adelaide.

Shadow minister for IT, Senator Kate Lundy, warned delegates that vendor “lock-in” is not just a theory.

“In the past vendors have locked in government departments in order to get recurring business,” Lundy said. “Open standards is about longevity and having reference material available in the future.”

Lundy claimed that about 85 per cent of big contracts involved maintaining legacy systems.

“There is a transition going on where governments are (re-evaluating) proprietary hardware and software to see how more use can be made of open systems,” she said.

South Australian member of the Democratic party, Ian Gilfillan, the first Australian politician to propose a law mandating consideration of open-source software in government purchasing, said locked-in information remains a serious concern for government departments and the public.

“Users of government services are (being) frustrated by not being able to access information,” Gilfillan said.

He added that it was “not acceptable for information to be difficult or impossible to access.”

Because of such situations, Gilfillan said governments were obliged to free themselves of vendor lock-in.

Open source software consultant Dan Shearer said the security implications of open standards-based information exchange between government departments should be less of a concern than those of proprietary systems.

“Open standards-based information exchange can be audited by many people and is likely to be more secure than software from one vendor,” Shearer said. “For example, making data available online is not a bad way to keep things.”

On the topic of open source software in government, Gilfillan was adamant that it would have significant financial benefits.

“If open source (software) is not cheaper, it is certainly not more expensive,” he said.

This sentiment was propelled by Shearer who said, “Governments have the right to determine their own direction with regard to information systems.”

Senator Lundy said this “freedom” of information management was always overlooked in costing models on proprietary versus open source software.

The Linux open source in government conference is part of Linux.Conf.Au, Australia’s national Linux conference at University of Adelaide. It ends on Saturday.

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