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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2003 Week 14 Hansard (10 December) . . Page.. 5165 ..

MRS CROSS (9.04): I shall speak to my amendments after Ms Dundas tables her amendments but I will be supporting this bill as amended. The bill seeks to place open-source software on equal footing with closed-source software in relation to government procurement.

My understanding is that the difference between open-source and closed-source software is that the code for open-source software is publicly available. It can be publicly accessed and even built upon. Sometimes these enhanced versions will be better and other times worse.

Most importantly, when you purchase open-source software you own it. You don't just purchase a licence as you do when you purchase closed-source software. You own the software. Anyone can fix open-source software. You don't have to rely on the company of purchase, and this means repair costs and upgrade costs are cheaper. This is the greatest advantage of open-source software.

Conversely, when you purchase closed-source software you only purchase a licence to use the software. Licensing rights to closed-source software usually belong to one company and the code is often kept secret. Closed-source software often has large licensing fees attached and is often expensive and time consuming to repair. Giving open-source software fair consideration when it comes to government procurement is extremely important for both open-source software producers and for the ACT government. It gives all software producers a fair go whilst providing the option of minimising costs and varying software for territory entities.

In saying this, I was concerned that Ms Dundas's bill sought to ensure open-source software was preferred to closed-source software. My primary concern was that this would have an impact on competition payments received for the National Competition Council. Legislating to restrict competition is highly unfair, dangerous and, bar the odd exception, should generally be avoided. I believe giving preference to one source of software over another was uncompetitive and should not be legislated for.

All tenderers and sources should be given equal opportunity to receive government contracts, with government contracts being decided by factors such as cost and relevance. I am, however, please to say that my amendment, which I believe is supported at least by the Democrats and the government, alleviates this problem. My amendment replaces the word "prefer"with the word "consider". This change ensures open-source software is given proper consideration when the ACT government seeks to procure government software.

Whilst not inherently disadvantaging closed-source software providers, this should protect competition payments and eliminate any legislative bias to one type of software provider or the other. I was also concerned that the standards software needed to comply with were not wide ranging enough. Reliance on only open standards, all of which are recognised by a W3C consortium, I believe, is too narrow. There are some internationally recognised standards that the open standards do not cover.

Thus I believe standards recognised by the ISO should also be reached before procurement is accepted. This ensures that the standards of software procured in the ACT are maximised and cover as many areas as possible.

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