ADJOURNMENT - Information Technology

I wanted to take the opportunity to provide an update on the campaign to get Australians fairer prices on the IT hardware and software they purchase.

When we’re paying up to 80 per cent more for software compared to US or UK customers, despite strengthened purchasing power that flows from a historically high Aussie dollar, you know something doesn’t add up.

And as I’ve also said before, I’m especially concerned about the impact that has on small businesses here – they are being asked to shoulder an utterly unfair burden.

Now, according a recent economic note issued by Treasurer Swan, it appears that there’s been a slight easing of this burden.

Analysis of the most recent CPI data indicates that Australian prices for computing-related equipment contracted in the previous quarter.
But we’ve still got a way to go in seeing some fairer pricing.

I welcome the Treasurer’s economic note, with its reference to the fact that the Federal Government has asked the Productivity Commission to review the extent of IT price discrimination in Australia.

This was an important step – that came about as a result of the tremendous assistance of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasurer David Bradbury.

Since late September, the Commission welcomed further submissions from the public on the impact of IT price differentials.

I want to congratulate those members of the public that made submissions to ensure their thoughts were considered.

Submissions ranged from organisations such as the Association of Professional Engineers, Scientists and Managers Australia (APESMA) to average consumers, some who didn’t hold back in their comments.  One consumer remarked:
 
“I believe these enforced price differentials, especially for online downloads, are baseless and exploitative of the average Australian consumer, who will not complain about the price for the sake of convenience and minimal hassle.”

Again, I thank people who made submissions and other members of the public who’ve been supporting this campaign.

I understand from inquiries I made today that the Productivity Commission has submitted its overall review into the Economic Structure and Performance of the Australian Retail Industry – which the IT pricing discrimination issue will form a part of.
This report is being considered by the Government now and I’m led to believe will be released next month 

When I scanned the submissions listed on the Productivity Commission website, something else became glaringly obvious:

not a single one of the major vendors took the opportunity to make a submission to the Commission.

It’s staggering that with all the interest in this matter, the vendors and companies like Adobe, Apple, Lenovo or Microsoft didn’t take the chance to comment.

I suspect these companies believe they can ride out this sustained public focus.

This was borne out by a comment passed on to me by a journalist, who put this issue to a senior IT exec, that indicated “they didn’t really care what government thought about this issue, we’ll charge what we want.”
I know that one comment by one senior executive doesn’t represent the views of the sector – but their overall failure to respond meaningfully to this matter speaks volumes.

If there are some people who take the view that they do not need to respond to this, or that they can ride it out, I would urge them to consider the following points.

Firstly, there is over $2 billion worth of IT procurement made by the federal government.

On top of this it is worth noting that under a coordinated procurement contracting framework that was signed between the Australian government and Microsoft in 2010-11, the Australian government spent over $95 million on licenses and software assurance through this volume source arrangement.

Government spends a great deal on IT software and hardware.

Certainly, I intend to follow up within government about what measures are in place to ensure that we are getting value for money and that we are not seeing inflated prices that are affecting the Australian government and therefore the taxpayer because the major vendor companies think that they can charge whatever they want, as quoted in that offhand remark.

Frankly, I think that we need to ensure that there is value for money for government, for consumers and for small business.

If they think they can ride this out, I would beg to differ and urge them actually to be a lot more transparent in the way that they approach this issue.

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Ed Husic MP
Federal Labor Member for Chifley


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