Labor MP Ed Husic’s made something of a name for himself as a consumer rights advocate, and over the last couple of years he’s had his sights firmly on the issue of IT products and the relative cost we pay for equipment and software in Australia.
The issue of pricing in Australia has a long and largely sorry history; for an awfully long time Australians had to put up with quite high prices for most technology gear; while companies were happy to laud Australians as “early adopters” for years, they were equally happy to hit us hard in our hip pocket nerves for the same technology sold overseas for much lower prices.
Often this was put down to the relatively weak position of the Australian dollar relative to other currencies — most of the time the US dollar. The only problem with that theory is that Australian dollar has been at parity — or slightly above it — for quite some time now.
Husic’s calling for an inquiry into IT equipment and software prices, but it’s worth being aware that not quite everything is overpriced. Often prices quotes in US dollars ignore local taxes — because each US state has its own varied tax base and rules for such products. In Australia all IT purchases are subject to a flat rate GST. If you see a price that’s within ten per cent of the US price, that’s pretty much GST right there — and that’s ignoring allowing any local merchant a small markup.
I reckon there’s a fair ground somewhere in the middle of all this, and in recent years some products — especially larger hardware computing purchases — have come close enough for me to fit them in a comfortable zone. It used to be much cheaper to buy laptops overseas; these days it’s often a matter of a dollar or two, and I’d trade a local warranty for a few dollars any day of the week.
That doesn’t mean that there aren’t products that are still unfairly overpriced. A lot of digital camera equipment — especially in the high-end DSLR space — still command an Australian premium. At least with cameras there’s a physical product to ship; what particularly irks me are downloaded software products purchased from an Australian web site. There’s no storefront space to rent, no sales attendants to pay wages and superannuation for — just a few web developers and a backend to deliver the software that’s often the same the world over anyway. You’re paying for the actual data download through your ISP as well, just to twist the knife a little more, and prices can be more than double.
It’ll be interesting to see where Husic’s call for an inquiry goes, if anywhere, and whether it effects real change. In the meantime at the consumer end, it’s worth checking the price you pay instore versus the price you pay online, keeping in mind that a small margin is perhaps to be expected — but price gouging should be stopped at the simplest way we’ve got open to us — by shopping elsewhere.