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Open Source Bill For Australian Capital Territory 186

Posted by timothy
from the seat-of-power dept.
leinad writes "An article in The Age newspaper claims the Australian Capital Territory is set to become the first jurisdiction in the country to adopt a bill which says that public bodies should, as far as practicable, consider the use of open source software when procuring computer software. (The Australian Capital Territory is the small territory/state of Australia in which Canberra, the capital of Australia, is located.)" Seems like requiring blueprints from contractors, to me.
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Open Source Bill For Australian Capital Territory

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  • wel... (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward
    the democrates are a bit of a joke in australia atm im supprised it passed
    • Re:wel... (Score:1, Troll)

      by yobbo (324595)
      Is the @#$%ing idiot moderator who modded this -1 even aware of Australian politics? The post is factually correct - the Democrats are in the shitter at the moment, and in recent times they have been occupants of the senate who traditionally do get in the way of the legislative program of the government. However, i'm not aware of the exact make up of ACT parliament right now - the democrats may not have such a large hold there, but that's a point of discussion - not for some dead shit moderator to slap a -1
    • The post is factually correct. The Australian Democrats are currently on a self-created pathway to oblivion.
      Honestly though I dont know how many Democrat members there are in the ACT parliament. Maybe enough to make some useful noise?
      Of far more interest is which of the major parties support this bill? And has it passed?
      • Re:wel... (Score:4, Informative)

        by Cosmik (730707) on Thursday December 11, 2003 @02:22AM (#7687552) Homepage
        The bill was passed today. When the Hansard page is updated, you'll be able to find out who supported it. Out of the 17 members of the Legislative Assembly, only 1 is a Democrat (1 Dem, 1 Green, 1 Independant, 6 Libs, 8 Labor). So, if the Dems, Greens and Ind sided with the Liberals, the Dem would prove efficient, but otherwise - not much use in blocking or ensuring bill go through, really. But in this case, I'm proved wrong, so thumbs up.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Well, glad to see some gov't has some ideas about open source development. Too bad the U.S. didn't come up with it. *sigh*
  • by ObviousGuy (578567) <ObviousGuy@hotmail.com> on Thursday December 11, 2003 @01:06AM (#7687197) Homepage Journal
    Requiring the blueprints for a building is important insofar as it is necessary to remodel the building in the future.

    However, most operating systems do not require alteration at any level below the distributor. Users are actively discouraged from changing their systems. Changing the system means possibly breaking compatibility with other systems which leads to headaches down the road as the forks diverge.

    OTOH, software is always in a state of flux. Government software is always being updated, and as long as the underlying OS doesn't change serious portings of the software do not need to take place. In the case of end-user software, it is important that the government have the software source code in hand so as to be able to contract out to companies as necessary to update it.

    But OS software is different, in that it is less likely that a change needs to be made for the purposes of government work. COTS is the name of the game, and as long as the systems are standardized to some degree things are hunky dory. There is no need for source code in the case of an OS.
    • I'd say your third para contradicts your second,

      but maybe I'm too dumb to understand you.

    • by bit01 (644603) on Thursday December 11, 2003 @01:54AM (#7687439)

      You're a troll and probably an M$ astroturfer but I'll bite so those new here won't be fooled:

      The source of the OS matters just as much as for application, but for reasons you haven't mentioned. These include:

      Documentation - it is impossible for API documentation to be complete. Source is frequently needed to make clear what will happen under rare circumstances eg. virtual memory traps during a strcpy() in a device driver.

      Back doors - without source it is impossible for the government to make sure that public data is not being used for private purposes. "Trust me" is not good enough for any non-trivial project. eg. voting

      Unusual circumstances - Governments are large organisations with many specialised operations. To say one size fits all is simply wrong. Source is not a panacea but can help solve problems that closed source vendors won't even look at. eg. support for military spec hardware.

      Forking - Closed source software forks every bit as much as open source source software and in addition will always eventually no longer be supported. With open source software an customer can make their own choices about when to drop support and not be beholden to a vendor trying to maximise profit.

      ---

      I sometimes think that closed source vendors are engaged in 1984 style double-think when it comes to closed source API's. By definition an open source API, assuming all else is equal, will allow a customer at least all the options of a closed source API.

      ---

      Astroturfers are scum

      • Forking - Closed source software forks every bit as much as open source source software and in addition will always eventually no longer be supported. With open source software an customer can make their own choices about when to drop support and not be beholden to a vendor trying to maximise profit.

        Just to add to that thought, the parent company goes under... or the staff all get hit by a car while their bus is off the the company picnic, or whatever. If the source is open, you can at least try to conti
    • by Frater 219 (1455) on Thursday December 11, 2003 @01:55AM (#7687442) Journal
      However, most operating systems do not require alteration at any level below the distributor. Users are actively discouraged from changing their systems. Changing the system means possibly breaking compatibility with other systems which leads to headaches down the road as the forks diverge.

      That's silly. It's like saying that having the freedom to remodel your building means that you're going to undermine its foundations and break its compliance with the building code. Of course you don't do that.

      When you have a large site with higher potential migration costs, you would be fiscally irresponsible to hand your system over to a single-source vendor. You wouldn't sign a building contract which specified that only the original builder could fix the roof if it leaked, would you? He could charge any price he wanted -- your only options would be to pay it, or to live in a leaky building, or to demolish or abandon the building and build another. That is what lock-in and migration costs mean in proprietary software.

      It's true that you, or your staff, may never need to make changes to your software yourself. However, you still benefit from the fact that others can, and that you are not locked-in to someone else's way of doing business.

    • It's important to remember that there is a lot of Open Source software out there that is not an Operating System.

      I hear there is even Open Source software that is Operating System independant...

    • The Operating System is software. The government would want the source for the OS for the same reason as for its application software, and for the same reason as it wants blueprints.

      Why does the government need blueprints to remodel? The contractor who built the building has the blueprints, and can make any changes requested. Unless of course they go out of business, or the government wants to use a different contractor.

      It's true that the gov is less likely to need to modify the OS. It may still happ
    • Requiring the blueprints for a building is important insofar as it is necessary to remodel the building in the future.

      wtf? requiring plans for a building is considered necessary (usually on a local level) because the designs need to be reviewed for competency, accordance to various codes, and to make sure the builder isn't cheating to cut costs, etc.; all of which are in the public good. if you really wanted to draw a good comparison, you could say any software used in at least the goverment (or the publ
    • Changing the system means possibly breaking compatibility with other systems

      Since when was ANY closed source operating system(or software) designed to be compatible with other vendors products? If the standards for Windows applications and documents were at all transparent - then that would undermine most of MS's business model.

      Open source encourages standards- because people like interoperability. People like being able to upgrade freely - not have to upgrade one expensive license only to find out th

  • by LardBrattish (703549) on Thursday December 11, 2003 @01:10AM (#7687222) Homepage
    isn't the bit about "considering open source wherever practical" which is easy to weasel around. I like this bit:-

    The bill, which goes before the ACT Legislative Assembly tonight, also specifies that public bodies should not use software that does not comply with open standards or standards recognised by the ISO or software for which support or maintenance is provided only by an entity that has the right to exercise exclusive control over its sale or distribution.

    That'll be the bit that gives most trouble to the beast of Redmond...
    • Define support (Score:3, Insightful)

      by ObviousGuy (578567)
      Define maintenance.

      I'm sure you'll find that Redmond will have no trouble satisfying this clause.
      • Re:Define support (Score:2, Insightful)

        by LardBrattish (703549)
        I see your point but how many companies can provide a fix for an exploit in SQL Server? How about MySQL or Postgresql...

        The open source movement needs to market itself better to the enterprise. That's why I support that proposal by the Debian guy to get certification & target vertical markets with tailored distros. If someone did that for the British NHS & sold them 1.6m seats @ (say) UKP20 + annual support @ UKP20/seat/year there'd be a reasonable amount of cash (64 Million Pounds) going into
    • by aheath (628369) *
      I don't see anything in the coverage of the bill that suggests that closed source software can not be procured and used if support or maintenance can be sourced from more than one vendor. In other words, closed source software is fine provided that a third party can provide support for this product.
      • by Neo-Rio-101 (700494) on Thursday December 11, 2003 @01:45AM (#7687395)
        Good Point.

        I think in order to be fair, they simply couldn't completely shut the door on proprietary solutions. People here are looking at the overall system and what it can do... and if Microsoft is still required to run a particular system because only it can... then MS will stay put.

        OTOH, if the government want to create jobs and boost the local IT industry.... those MS licences will slowly die out when an OSS alternative replacement comes along.

        For most people, a Linux system does the job. OpenOffice is great (still has a few quirks here and there, but is generally "good enough" considering you don't pay a cent for it). All the other tools just add value to an already free offering.

        And let's not forget FreeBSD in the server room.

        Having said all that, forcing OSS solutions and avoiding vendor lock-in is going to be tricky when you basically need a vendor to offer you support somewhere. This basically means that if the Enterprise is running Linux on the desktop, according to the Aussie government's proposition, the whole install MUST have no proprietary pieces in there which would inhibit a change in service/support vendors. ....That's the most interesting thing that I see coming up.
        Now, who other than Microsoft can support their own OS at a source code level? Microsoft may have to take the initiative on this one....
    • by Anonymous Coward
      I provide third party support for WinXXXX all the time. Charge reasonable rates for doing so. Provides my beer, tobacco, gas and dvd rental money for the month on a regular basis, all outside of my regular job. Thank $$$ for WinME, support for which accounts for about $150 a month income on the side for me, just being the fine system it is. Don't know what I'll do when I actually convince my clients to switch to something better. ;-)
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Requiring open source is like requiring openly designed cars, electronic devices, etc... for the government business. It doesn't make sense and it is not the right way to promote open source. It is totally discriminatory and unfair. I would reject such an idea and will consider it an abuse of the government power against the free will of people.

    Promoting open standards is another matter though, cause that really gives people the power to use whatever they want, be it open source or Microsoft software, it d
    • by mabinogi (74033) on Thursday December 11, 2003 @01:15AM (#7687250) Homepage
      It's not about requiring, it's about considering....

      Also the most significant part of the bill is not really about open source...it's about requiring the use of open standards, and avoiding single vendor lock in....
      • Exactly, because there has to be a first step, first they consider the open source, and once users discover the joys and advantages (stability, price, etc.) of Open Source perhaps new legislation will be passed... one can only hope!
      • it's about requiring the use of open standards, and avoiding single vendor lock in....
        There's also the problem of entrenched "we're a Microsoft/IBM/Apple/whatever shop" cultures where emplyees and PHBs just won't want to deal with anything outside their comfort zones, and so resist any effort to change. Problem is, this costs bucks/trouble, so now they need an excuse.
  • food on the table (Score:5, Interesting)

    by mcclure (617150) on Thursday December 11, 2003 @01:17AM (#7687261) Homepage
    I'm working for a company whom I've convinced to give the whole "open source thing" a looksee.

    This legislation means a lot to us - even though it doesn't cover the whole of the government, (as near as i can tell) it only applies to the ACT government.

    We will now get a lot more interest in our services - and once we're in one government department, federal departments can't be that far away!

    Exciting times.
    • "once we're in one government department, federal departments can't be that far away!"

      It will be a long time before many government departments dealing with "sensative" information even consider open source. But yes, it is a foot in the door.
      • It will be a long time before many government departments dealing with "sensative" information even consider open source.


        You mean like, oh ... say, the NSA [nsa.gov]?

        Or don't you think the National Security Agency handles senitive information?
      • Actually the Australian Defence Signals Directorate's (DSD - roughly analogous to the NSA) advisory site for government departments only links to Linux in it's OS downloads section.

        See here [onsecure.gov.au]
  • Territory vs State (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 11, 2003 @01:18AM (#7687276)
    The Australian Capital Territory is the small territory/state of Australia in which Canberra, the capital of Australia, is located.

    It is a territory. It is not a state. There is a difference.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 11, 2003 @01:18AM (#7687279)
    The Australian Capital Territory is the small territory/state of Australia in which Canberra, the capital of Australia, is located.

    Just like the Washington/Washington D.C. concept.
  • CLUG (Score:4, Interesting)

    by femto (459605) on Thursday December 11, 2003 @01:20AM (#7687284) Homepage
    I wonder what influence CLUG [clug.org.au] had on this outcome?

    CLUG projects include samba and rsync, so they could be called a 'shining light' for the ACT.

    • Re:CLUG (Score:3, Informative)

      by Snoopy77 (229731)
      And don't forget the ACT is the home of Tux! There is even a sign about Linux at the penguin exhibit at the zoo.
      • that was the penguin that bit Linus and gave him penguinitits.

        Submitted a story to /. a few weeks ago on that but it was rejected.

    • Not that I can speak for CLUG (or that anyone really can, it's an amorphous group) but there was a lot of feedback between members of the Legislative Assembly and the CLUG, particularly discussion as to the philosophy and a lot of hand holding that Open Source/Free Software wasn't orientated to any particular political ideology.
  • by Norman at Davis (707321) <compman896@socal ... m minus caffeine> on Thursday December 11, 2003 @01:21AM (#7687295)
    According to The Australian [news.com.au], this is "part of a coordinated national approach by the Democrats, which has seen similar legislation introduced in South Australia and federally and under consideration in [New South Wales] (whose capitol is Sydney) - calls for government to "consider" the purchase of open source software in procurement plans." The article also mentions that "the original version of the bill would have required the ACT to 'prefer open source software' but that was of course neutered. Appearently in the last six months alone the ACT has spent $15 million Australian ($11 mil US) (Converter [xe.com]) on Microsoft software and support for the next three years.
    • I hate to be the bringer of bad news, but the fact the Democrats introduce anything in parliament in Australia is no indication it will pass. In New South Wales at least the Democrats have no lower house seats that I am aware of, so unless one of the major parties also supports the bill, it isnt going anywhere. Similar situation in the other states and territories.
    • by xixax (44677) on Thursday December 11, 2003 @02:18AM (#7687541)
      The Bill in question is available on the ACT government's web site [act.gov.au] and (as passed) on the member's website [roslyndundas.com]. Don't get too excited, it uses the weasel-word "practicable" and the conservatives had it ammended to have a 3 year life. OTOH, it could be a great mandate.

      The ACT is a administrative territory for the national capital, and we also had an OSS electronic voting system at our last election that is based on Linux [wired.com]

      Xix.

    • As far as I'm aware, the South Australian Software Procurement Bill was voted down (at least the one introduced in June) after pressure from the business software sector which didn't want preferences (ie status quo). Budgetwise, the ACT does not have impact on federal spending

      LL
  • by Quelain (256623)
    Good news, hopefully we'll see some good work done there which inspires others to follow.

    Other Aussie states might be slow in actually requiring consideration of OSS, but the ACT's work could build a collection of useful software and government IT people will gain experience with OSS alternatives. That can only help with adoption elsewhere.

  • we already do this (Score:5, Interesting)

    by urban_gorilla (691918) on Thursday December 11, 2003 @01:26AM (#7687310) Journal
    actually working for a government department that pretty much exculsively uses open source for our development projects i can say... it works... and pretty well too.
    we are a small department, and without a large budget have managed to complete projects in a similar, if not smaller amount of time and that would have otherwise cost millions.
    yes. millions
    go figure.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Due to the National Competition Policy, it is unlawful to compell government agencies to use one type of software in preference to another.

    A similar open source friendly bill has been passed in the State of South Australia. The S.A Act only makes it mandatory to "consider" using open source software in preference to proprietary software. Both pieces of legislation can only make it mandatory to "consider" the deployment of open sources software. The Australian Democrats introduced the Sth Aust bill in to Pa
  • by Anonymous Coward
    See the article in Computerworld: "ACT (Australian Capital Territory) passes open source law" http://www.computerworld.com.au/index.php?id=79293 4018&fp=16&fpid=0
  • Heart of the Nation (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward
    For those that don't know he ACT or Australian Capital Territory is nestled in the southern part of NSW, it is a comfortable drive of about 2 and a half hours to 3 hours from sydney (depending on whether you want to keep you licence or not).

    While it is mostly overlooked as far as the rest of the world is concerned. It is the heart of the nation, and any adoption of Open Source Standands that comes from this bill, is an important step forward in many areas, not the least of which is security.

    I'm looking fo
  • Hacked up already (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 11, 2003 @01:42AM (#7687377)
    The bill was pushed through last night (about 12 hours ago) the full hansard is not yet available but I will link to it when it comes up.

    Something that is just as interesting as the full hansard is the minutes and the changes that were made to the bill that has now been passed.

    The line

    'as far as practicable prefer open source software'

    was changed to

    'as far as practicable consider open source software'

    Full minutes:
    Are here [act.gov.au]

    Page 8 has the bill
    Page 10 has the ammendments
    • I'm not Australian, so I probably have no right to comment, but that change seems good. There is nothing more infuriating than being forced to use a tool "just because". The wording "prefer" could be weighted in different ways. If the deciding factor in choosing is the openness of the source not the usefullness of the application, everyone losses. User are forced to use an inferior product, and they know it, and an open source project that may have blossomed, starts to get a bad reputation.

      For exampl
  • by dilby (725275) on Thursday December 11, 2003 @01:48AM (#7687410) Journal
  • good (Score:4, Interesting)

    by POds (241854) on Thursday December 11, 2003 @01:50AM (#7687421) Homepage Journal
    Cool, maybe the Australian taxation office will be able to read those applications forms i've been sending in openoffice format now? Wooh, i might get a job soon.
  • More coverage (Score:3, Informative)

    by child_of_mercy (168861) <[johnboy] [at] [the-riotact.com]> on Thursday December 11, 2003 @01:50AM (#7687424) Homepage
    We've got a lot more detail on this, including links to the actual legislation, at RiotACT [the-riotact.com] (Canberra focused slashlike)
  • by Cosmik (730707) on Thursday December 11, 2003 @01:52AM (#7687430) Homepage
    I'm an ACT resident, and discussion about this bill came up at work today. In regards to that, I've got to wonder why the hell a bill was needed for this - why is a policy, strictly enforced, not enough?

    Are our politicians so inept that they have to hold onto the contraints of the law in order to purchase some new software? Wait...I think I just answered my own question.
    • In particular, this is another case where the law merely requires that Open Source be considered.

      You know you're in a pretty sorry state when you need laws that force your government to even look at more than a single source of something.

      Unfortunately, such laws are all too often needed. Otherwise the contracts usually go to whoever has done the best job of greasing palms. And, of course, such greasing is always easiest for the biggest player(s).

  • what about pay back? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by kautilya (727754) on Thursday December 11, 2003 @01:58AM (#7687457)
    I hope these governments will pay back too. If they are benefitting from open source, they should somehow invest to promote open source software.
    • well i imagine their programmers (and they have many) will be sending in patches for itches they need scratched before very long.

      And employing the many linux contributors who live in Canberra.
  • by Osrin (599427) on Thursday December 11, 2003 @02:01AM (#7687465) Homepage
    ... shed some light on this.

    The ACT governments is not one of the 7 state governments, nor does it represent the Australian federal government.

    My understanding is that the ACT Government represents the ACT (strange that)... an underfunded town that is smaller and less influential than Munich.

    It's nice to see the activity, but don't get over excited, this isn't going to rock anybodies world.
  • or on the other hand if they share some of that wine around the bill may actually pass!
  • by NicksMyName (731714) on Thursday December 11, 2003 @02:14AM (#7687526)
    According to Computer World [computerworld.com.au] the bill was approved today.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 11, 2003 @02:16AM (#7687530)
    I work for an IT company, among the largest, providing services in the ACT. I'm also one of the few people in this company that will even consider open source solutions to any given problem instead of jumping immediately to a Microsoft offering. Open source solutions are almost invariably dismissed if a Microsoft soution can be cobbled together. While I applaud the intent of this bill I don't think it'll change the status quo.

    Government departments, local, State, or Federal have two common traits:
    * They are risk averse
    * They want someone to blame when things don't go right

    Adopting an open source solution when all departments around you are Microsoft shops and all the local IT companies are Microsoft shops is seen as violating both traits.

    Risk comes from the possibility that things may not interoperate (without your user base having to actually think for themselves). The first time a Minister or Dept. Head cannot open a memo or check a calendar because of file format problems someone will have to answer. Risk of this occurring increases as Redmond moves to close its file formats.

    When open source fails there is no-one to blame. Even though blaming MS for failure in their software is pointless insofar as rectifying the problem it does provide suitable cover for bureaucrats. You and I both know that solutions to most open source problems can be had with a modicum of effort. However, if you cannot buy local IT company support for OpenOffice or whatever then you have to provide this effort yourself - something Australian governments have spent the best part of a decade divesting themselves of the ability to provide.

    Good idea, and I hope it works, but I won't be holding my breath.
    • all the local IT companies are Microsoft shops

      I won't be holding my breath.

      Rather than concentrate on your breating, why don't you get with the program and start supporting OSS.

      Looks like an excellent business opportunity, strike out on you own.

    • The first time a Minister or Dept. Head cannot open a memo or check a calendar because of file format problems someone will have to answer. Risk of this occurring increases as Redmond moves to close its file formats.

      This is happening now. The travesty is this incompatibility is forced on those who have to deal with governments and don't have the "glory" of being on an MS upgrade fast track. The govt upgrades its software and send documents to its "clients" who can't read them without upgrading their soft

  • by Anonymous Coward
    Hey I live in Canberra. Apparantly Linus was visiting Tridge and they went and checked out the fairy pengiuns at the National Zoo and Aquarium. It was the zoo where Linus got bitten on the finger by those cute, yet feisty little creatures! I'm so proud of that fact!

    Canberra seems to be the epicentre of Linux in Australia. The Australian National Uni where I spent some time is very pro-Linux and Open Source.

    Did you know that there are Uni's in Australia where people graduate with an IT degree, yet never on

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