State government looks at open source law

Government departments in the state of South Australia will be required to use open source software in preference to proprietary software if a bill proposed by Democrat Ian Gilfillan is passed into law.

The bill proposed by the Science and the Information Economy spokesman states: “A public authority must, in making a decision about the procurement of computer software for its operations, have regard to the principle that, wherever practicable, a public authority should use open source software in preference to proprietary software.”

Gilfillan is optimistic the current Labor regime will support the proposed bill which is the first of its kind in Australia.

“The potential for cost savings will be favorably received among government departments and if they choose not to use open source software should be intensively questioned as to why not,” he said. “This bill makes consideration of open source mandatory in software selection.”

Inspired by Oregon’s open source bill, which was introduced earlier this year in the U.S., Gilfillan said open source provides a level playing field for people with limited means to compete.

“I am concerned about ‘buddy-buddy’ relationships between some corporations and governments which may result in lobbying against non-commercial software,” Gilfillan said. “Governments should give open source software a fair go. They need to decide if open source was successful. If not, why not?”

Gilfillan intends to rally support for his proposal through the open source community and plans to speak at the South Australian Linux User’s Group.

Con Zymaris, CEO of Cybersource Corp., said governments in Australia should mandate the use of open, documented and interoperable file formats and data communication protocols, rather than specific products or suppliers.

“It is in government departments’ best interests to choose technologies which have implementations from more than one vendor, boosting the department’s tactical leverage and hedging against any single supplier gaining lock-in and price gouging mechanisms,” Zymaris said. “Preference should be given to technologies for which there is a case to be made that local industry can benefit, and that import replacements can be enacted, helping improve our woeful balance of trade in ICT.”

Zymaris believes that if this combination of purchasing policies is adopted, free and open source software such as Linux will be the best route to fulfilling these requirements, but that other technologies can compete openly and fairly.

“These types of policies are viably supportable across the broad spectrum of politics, and are thus far more likely to be enacted into law or formal requirements,” he said.