Within 24 hours of a federal election being called, Communications and IT minister Helen Coonan has swapped her contentious campaign to offshore government IT services for a warm and fuzzy embrace of home-grown open source software to woo the penguin vote.
Coonan today leapt on an otherwise reserved Australian Government Management Office (AGIMO) guide to using open source software within government, elevating it to a an electoral pledge of sorts through the release of a government position paper.
"The government will continue to encourage the use of open source software solutions by developing a range of tools to help government agencies make informed decisions to suit their IT needs and get value for money.
“This position paper shouldn’t be seen as the government advocating open source software in all cases, rather we are acting to identify and remove the impediments to government procurement of open source solutions,” Coonan said.
Coonan also extolled the virtues of AGIMO's so called "white branding" approach, which will see open source applications code held in code banks for generic reuse across government. Coonan described the joint development of a white-branded and open source content management system by AGIMO and boutique developer Squiz.net as "robust, portable and suits government business needs".
"This solution will soon be offered to all government agencies at no direct cost," Coonan said, most likely giving proprietary software vendors reliant on licensing revenue chest pains in the process.
Election or otherwise, Microsoft is treating emergence of the government's stance on open source procurement with some seriousness.
Managing director of Microsoft Australia, Steve Vamos, said commercial decisions needed to made on commercial grounds and warned that injecting philosophy into business-based IT procurement debates was an inherently dangerous activity.
"The technology industry is littered with failed philosophies. The real test is [whether], over time, hardware or software [platforms are proven to work] and provide best value for money," Vamos said.
Having spent some years berating the government over proprietary software lock-ins and a complete lack of interest in open source, Labor's IT shadow Kate Lundy moved swiftly to accuse Coonan of brazenly recycling Labor's open source stance.
"How many years has it taken them? I hope this is not just [expedient] lip service because open source does have a strong future in Australia," Lundy said.
However, Lundy warned Coonan's belated embrace of open source may prove too little too late for local industry, with the government having neglected intellectual property concerns in the recently inked Free Trade Agreement (FTA)with the US.
"We've seen through the FTA the increased vulnerability of open source. The Coalition did not seem sympathetic to those [intellectual property concerns] facing the open source community when [it was] facing the FTA debate. I look to the Coalition – which may not then be the government – ensuring the FTA does not lead to open source vendors becoming vulnerable to [predatory litigation under the FTA]," Lundy said.
Australian government CIO and AGIMO head John Grant was unavailable for comment on Monday night; however, AGIMO has consistently argued individual government agencies remain free to choose IT suppliers based on individual agency needs, fitness for purpose and value for money - regardless of whether such arrangements are insourced, outsourced or open source.