The bill itself is available here.

State Supply (Procurement of Software) Amendment Bill 2003

Draft Second Reading Speech

Hon Ian Gilfillan MLC

(Check against Delivery)

Mr President, despite the onerous title, this Bill is about the use of Open Source Software by the Government of South Australia.

Open Source software is an unusual concept and one that will take more than the usual amount of explanation.

Ordinary Products

When we buy something, we usually buy the right to use that thing in any way that we see fit. For example, if you buy a car, you can add roof racks or a tow bar or even paint the car a different colour.

The key thing about buying something is that it becomes your property and you can do with it as you will, even to the point of selling it on to someone else. You could even break up a car into pieces and sell the pieces to different people.

Software

Somehow we have been tricked into believing that software is a different kind of thing, and many have accepted the idea that we don't own a piece of software once we buy it. In fact, some of the major suppliers of software have moved to a revenue model whereby it's necessary to continually pay rent for the right to use a product that has been purchased.

Even stranger, we aren't even allowed to see the workings of the software so that we can check to make sure that it is doing what we expect or want it to do. If I continue with the car example, this would be equivalent to buying a car, but never being allowed to look under the bonnet to see what is inside.

This is a very strange situation, where people are paying astonishingly large amounts of money on an ongoing basis, for very few rights.

In many cases, people are not even allowed to talk about their experiences with using a piece of software, because of the narrow terms of the license agreement that comes with that software.

The Open Source Movement

In response to this and many other problems in the computer software industry, a world-wide movement of people have developed a set of competing software products that don't have restrictive license agreements. In fact, the most common clause associated with Open Source software is that you can use the software in any way, and modify it as you see fit, provided you include a full copy of the source code every time you sell the software to another party.

As the source code of this software is available for anyone to see at any time, this code is robust and secure.

South Australia

Mr President, this Open Source Software movement is a vast opportunity for South Australia.

Our universities could be teaching computer science around Open Source products, allowing students to examine in intimate detail, the workings of established products. Every student assignment has the potential to contribute to the body of functioning open source systems. Simply by forwarding their completed work to the relevant Open Source project, their code could become part of a greater work in publication.

It is worth noting, Mr President, that some of the most widely used and recognized pieces of Open Source software have been developed here in Australia. As an example, the Samba project, which allows Linux computers to seamlessly integrate with Windows networks, was developed by a team that was primarily based in Canberra.

Because the Open Source paradigm uses a different business model, it is possible for student computers to be fully programmed with Operating Systems, Development Tools, and working Applications Software at no cost to the student, as a lot of Open Source Software is also free software.

This factor alone has the potential to save the education sector millions of dollars in license fees.

South Australia's IT industry is ideally placed to develop and maintain Open Source systems. Every government development project could leverage the efforts of previous projects by standing on the shoulders of the work that has been done before. Open Source code is inherently portable, and can be compiled to run on any computer architecture, or be customized to suit any Department's specific needs. Thus work developed for one Agency, can easily be carried over to another under this paradigm.

I hasten to point out Mr President, that some international IT houses that develop work here in South Australia, DMR (a division of Fujitsu) for example already make it their standard practice to supply source code with any delivered product. Changing the licensing conditions to make these products open source, would not be a significant imposition on businesses that operate in this fashion.

Where this would be significant, is in the enormous amounts of money that is currently being channeled into the hands of a few very large American companies.

It is common in the computer industry to hear frustrated IT specialists talking about the Microsoft Tax, the extra charge that is paid to Microsoft every time a computer is purchased, no matter how that computer is being used.

If we develop software locally under the Open Source paradigm, we allow our IT specialists to make quality products that they can sell to the wider world, along with support and training for their customers.

By encouraging our Departments and Agencies to use Open Source Software, we support a local development environment that can open the door to international sales.

Bear in mind that South Australia already has a history of developing IT products that are sold overseas, so this Bill is seeding already fertile ground.

Mr President, this Bill is a simple one, and yet, it has the potential to do great things for our state. It requires procurement people in public authorities to consider the alternative of using open source software, and wherever practicable, using open source in preference to proprietary software.

Mr President, I commend this Bill to the House.