Government Moves to Actively Consider the Greater Use of Open Source Software

Special Minister of State, Gary Gray
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Today I released the revised Australian Government policy on open source software. The revised policy aims to strengthen the consideration of open source software by agencies when they go through ICT software procurements.

The Government’s previous policy, established in 2005, was one of ‘informed neutrality.’ This meant that agencies took an unbiased position that did not favour open source or proprietary software and procured the solution that was the best ’value for money’ and 'fit for purpose' for their specific requirement. Since then, there has been an increase in the maturity of the open source software products and the use of open source software by governments around the world. In recent years, many governments have revised their policies to increase the adoption of open source software.

This revised Australian Government policy on open source software will ensure that we maintain international best practice and that our purchases of software will continue to reflect best value for money for the Government.

The revised policy will commence on 1 March 2011 for all ICT software procurements. The revised policy is available on the Department of Finance and Deregulation website in PDF (134 KB) and RTF (103 KB) formats. This revised policy will also be included in the revised Guide to Open Source Software for Australian Government Agencies, which is due for release in March 2011.

I encourage you to read the revised policy.


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Comments (19)

You can start by not mandating the ECMA version of OOXML. That automatically precludes the use of any open source software for office productivity.

Wonderful news, and a very well timed announcement. :-)

Agreed! Perfect way to end Australia Day

actively participating in open technology communities is a great step - i take my hat off to agimo.
looking forward to agimo participating in the Open Technology Foundation which already has the support of State Governments

This policy is simple, well thought out and puts Open Source where it should be: fairly in competition.

In our panel session at the "Open in the Public Sector" at lca2011 on Tuesday we were discussing exactly this problem. The consensus was that Open Source often has a great business case, but it's not seen at the same level as proprietary software. This policy should change that.

Encouraging governemnt participation in open source communities is also a very effective use of government money.

Thank you, and bravo. I look forward to reading the updated Guide to Open Source Software for Australian Government Agencies in March.


A question for all the 'glass-half-full' types:

What implementations of Free and Open Source software in government where undertaken as a result of the previous policy of 'informed neutrality'?


As a former SES officer with several years experience working with AGITMO's predecessors (OGO, OGIT, NOIE, et. al.) I'm surprised this organisation is still in existence. I could never understand how it survived the fall of the Howard Government; it was a creation of Mr Howard when he was first elected and had a raft of grand plans and ideas that were going to enhance the Australian economy through up-take of "on-line everything". It would be worth your while to sit back and evaluate what this organisation has actually achieved; my take on it would be "absolutely nothing"! Look at GateKeeper (which I managed and failed to kill) for example. Look at these recent announcements on open systems. What does all this actually mean? And where is the benefit for the economy? Disbanding AGITMO and like organisations and putting the savings into flood reconstruction would be a much better use of your time.

Happy to discuss further.


Great new, I see great things from this policy, just remember Microsoft will always tell you that their software is open source, however if you look closer, you will see it's not. Shared source doesn't equal open source.

Congratulations. Mandating the consideration of open source solutions may deliver substantial savings for all Australians. I look forward to the states and quangos following your lead.

However what really excites me is Principle 3 "Australian Government agencies will actively participate in open source software communities and contribute back where appropriate." Such active engagement could spawn the growth of a host of substantial local open source businesses -which would help redress our country's ever growing ICT trade balance.


Congratulations. Mandating the consideration of open source solutions may deliver substantial savings for all Australians. I look forward to the states and quangos following your lead.

However what really excites me is Principle 3 "Australian Government agencies will actively participate in open source software communities and contribute back where appropriate." Such active engagement could spawn the growth of a host of substantial local open source businesses - which would help redress our country's ever growing ICT trade balance.


You may want to ask why local governments in Queensland opted for an expensive, proprietary and untried disaster management application written by some ex-employees of one of the councils. QLD local government had the option of deploying the open source Sahana application that has been used in most of the major disasters around the world since the 2005 tsunami but chose to waste money instead.

Not-invented-here syndrome?

while bob has highlighted the best thing to come out of this development, this is still merely periphery; tackle the real issue - open-sourcing the development life-cycle

this is the big one and represents yet another burden of waste on the economy - directly in the costs associated with systems developers reinventing the wheel, but also indirectly, by keeping the (often costly) experience gained as proprietary to those that were involved.

Speaking as an IT contractor in Canberra: I'd like to see open-sourcing of software developed in-house by the government itself, to the point of the source code repositories having public mirrors. I'd like to see it become common practise for departments to re-use one another's code, for "They wrote something over at DFAT that does that" to be a common occurrence, for a government codebase to develop, for that codebase to be the first place that you look when you need something.

It'd also do us all a world of good to know that every line we write (that isn't sensitive in itself) will be public.

I'd also like to see things like XML schema documents to be publicly hosted, with an organisational commitment to the urls at which they are available. Need to put a BSB number in an XML document? Don't roll your own - declare the element to be of the XML type defined at the publicly viewable schema at the ATO.

Great policy, and good first step, however, government purchasing practices will continue to inadvertently favour proprietary software until we see guidelines on how to compare the value Open Source and Proprietary Software which provide tools to assess the holistic value of Open Source. This is explained in the article Governments don't know how to buy free software .

A good starting point would be the European Union "Guideline for Public administrations on Procurement and Open Source Software", summarised here:

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The first thing Open Source Software to succeed in Government is to let Technical Managers educate themselves, go the hard yard and think how OSS communities work. They have to start browsing all the OSS communities on the net and start registering and collaborate.

Majority of the gov't Technical Managers are not innovative and they just rely on proprietary software!

Most of the gov't systems and applications could be converted in 5 to 10 years with open source software if Technical Managers have good planning, courage and vision.

Open Source Software is F R E E ... as in FREEDOM!

Microsoft welcomes the release of the Government's revised open source software policy. See Microsoft's letter to the Minister at

The revised open source policy is welcomed but falls far short of what needs to be done to accelerate a change in an agency's ICT procurement behaviour. The following are current issues my company has encountered when dealing with government agencies:

- lack of understanding that open source software is to be procured as a service not as a product.
- lack of understanding that open source software is developed on a global scale yet supported locally.
- lack of understanding of licensing models resulting in tenders that exclude open source options.
- lack of skills within Government to assess, develop and support open source.
- lack of knowledge on the use of open standards in procurement specifications and the requirement for solutions to comply with open standards.

To address the above issues the Government could:
- implement a programme of procurement skills needed to evaluate open source solutions and then chose a service provider. In other words, the procurement of open source solutions is about the evaluation of software and the procurement of services.
- raise the level of awareness, skills and confidence in agencies on the different licensing, support, commercial and cost models associated with open source solutions.

In addition firm guidelines for ensuring open source and proprietary solutions are to be considered equally during procurement exercises could include:

- a standard form of words to state positively in tenders that the Government’s policy is to consider open source solutions on their merits according to total lifetime cost of ownership.
- authoritative advice for those involved in procurement to the particulars on licensing, warranty and indemnity associated with open source.
- the specification and evaluation of compliance with open standards.
evaluating the potential for re-use across the public sector.

Apart from the obvious benefits of cost savings, elimination of duplication and innovation that open source brings, wider adoption of open source in general will boost the Australian ICT industry. Large proprietary software companies are usually global and concentrated in a few parts of the world. These global companies make investments on the basis of global returns, and licence fee payments are returned to the global revenue pool, in other words much of the Australian tax dollars used to pay for software is moved off-shore.

Due to the nature of open development where global communities of coders collaborate to produce complex software solutions, local Australian SMEs will usually provide installation, customisations and post implementation support for the open source solution. Thus most of the money spent on the total cost of ownership for an IT project remains within the local economy.

Last updated: 28 July 2016