Mr HUSIC (Chifley—Government Whip) (12:46): The other night it took me four minutes and 55 seconds to order the latest iPad from Apple Australia’s website. Very impressive. Easy to select options, along with the chance to customise the order and add extra items to the purchase. In the meantime, it has taken 363 days to get a written response from Apple Australia’s Managing Director asking him to let Australian consumers know the answer to the following question: ‘Why do your products cost more in Australia than they do in the US?’ To be fair to Apple, they are not the vendors walking with clay feet on this issue. Most of the big players in the sector—Adobe, Apple, Canon, Lenovo and Microsoft—have all failed to substantially address these concerns. The general approach of the vendors on this issue is that, if they close their eyes, perhaps the complaints will simply dissolve away. Bad call. That was the approach they took through the course of last year’s Productivity Commission review into the economic structure and performance of the Australian retail industry. If you cast your eyes over the submissions received, you will not be struck by too many put forward by IT vendors. From my perspective, the most commonsense approach would have been for the companies to set out in their own terms why they price their products in Australia differently from other parts of the world. Instead of doing that, IT vendors have not only remained mute, they keep aggravating Australian consumers. And those consumers are contacting me.
Last week Daniel Myles let me know via Twitter: ‘Photoshop CS5 extended digital download is currently $999 in the US. The exact same download costs A$1,671 when buying from Australia.’ So here we see that price discrimination continues even after the Productivity Commission effectively told IT vendors that there are few persuasive arguments to justify pricing software downloads differently in varying regional markets. Let us be clear about this: IT vendors are demonstrating they will price differently here because we will cop it or they think we will keep quiet about it.
Last year I mentioned to the House a comment passed on to me by a journalist covering the IT sector. This journalist put the issue to a senior IT exec and the response was: ‘We don’t really care what government thinks about this issue, we’ll charge what we want.’ Consumers do not need much convincing that that is the view of the vendors. Daniel Myles tweeted back to me: ‘Suppliers and distributors will continue current practice for dollars until there is action and enforcement, not just words.’ I do not think it is unreasonable that Australian consumers and business get their questions answered. In this day and age, where the internet has opened the eyes of consumers to what is on offer worldwide, IT vendors should be much more upfront about the way they set their prices. Since IT vendors have been so dismissive of consumers, businesses and government, it is now time to press for these answers. The time for the answers is right now, instead of having vendors hide behind convenient excuses such as the varying exchange rates.
I inform the House that I am now writing to the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy requesting that a parliamentary inquiry be held into IT price discrimination. The inquiry will be an opportunity for anyone with a concern or view on this issue to put forward their comments to help work out whether a differential in prices exists and to determine the extent of the differential, to get some answers as to why households and small business have to suffer these differentials, and to set out the impact of the differentials on Australian businesses and households, and even government—bear in mind the $2 billion spent on IT procurement by government. No-one wants inquiries to just be an exercise in hot air minus the action. So I think the inquiry should also receive advice on what might be done within the law to deal with this issue where IT vendors fail to respond.
There are a few reasons why this type of inquiry is necessary. The obvious initial reason is simple: fairness. I think it is fair that companies recover costs for getting products to market, but if products cost up to 80 per cent more in one country compared to another without good reason, that is not right and that is not fair. It is not fair that companies price in a way that benefits consumers of their home country because they cannot afford to upset domestic consumers, but they can rip off others. Where we as government are making a substantial investment in completely renewing our technological and communications infrastructure via the deployment of the NBN, and where that has demonstrated economic and commercial benefit for the nation, I do not think it is fair that our businesses competing in a global market be placed at competitive disadvantage where exactly the same hardware costs more than what their rivals have to pay, or where small business have to pay $10,000 more to download updated software or secure licences for that software.
As I said to the House last year, if IT vendors think this issue will disappear in the face of stonewalling, they should think again, and today is further evidence of that.