TECHNOLOGY giants Apple, Microsoft and Adobe have been ordered to appear before a parliamentary inquiry into the exorbitant IT prices paid by Australians.
Representatives from each of the companies have been summonsed to give evidence before the House Committee on Infrastructure and Communications in Canberra on March 22.
The committee, which began its probe in July, has been examining claims by organisations such as Choice and the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network that Australians are paying far more for hardware and software than people in other countries.
It has received 100 submissions, including one from Microsoft, but has been unable to get representatives from the IT industry to give evidence in person.
During a speech to the Parliament in October the committee's deputy chair Paul Neville flagged the possibility of subpoenas being issued.
"The ultimate sanction for this sort of thing is to invoke the committee's powers to subpoena people," the Hinkler MP told the House in October.
"I am always reluctant to do that, but I think a time comes when we should consider the sanctity of the Parliament and what it is here to do.
"I think we need to send out a signal that we are not going to accept that and that we expect a better level of conduct from the industry."
Committee chairman Nick Champion also vented his anger at the recalcitrance of the IT companies.
He said they had declined repeated invitations to front the inquiry and explain their pricing structures.
Mr Champion said Apple had provided a confidential submission and briefing to the committee, but refused to either make the submission public or appear before the committee to give evidence.
He commended Microsoft for making submissions, but expressed frustration at its refusal to answer questions at a public hearing.
"The industry seems to employ the tactic of giving either little or limited cooperation to the committee, particularly in public testimony. It is not good enough for the industry to simply stonewall the inquiry - or, for that matter, to ignore interested consumers who have a legitimate public interest in IT pricing," Mr Champion said in October.
"It would be far better for companies to defend their business model and their pricing structure in public before the committee."
Choice CEO Alan Kirkland said the consumer advocacy group had put forward evidence showing Australians paid about 50% more than United States consumers for identical music, software, games and hardware.
And he called on the companies to come to the hearings armed with answers, not excuses.
"We welcome the move by the committee to force these companies to front the Australian public and explain why they think it is okay to charge Australians more," Mr Kirkland said.
"Australians are waking up to the fact that we are being ripped off. We believe it's time that these companies realise this and start pricing fairly in the Australian market.
"We found that with one Microsoft software development product, you could fly to Los Angeles return to buy the software and still save thousands of dollars."
Apple and Microsoft each declined to comment when contacted by APN Newsdesk.
The House Committee on Infrastructure and Communications is looking at:
- Whether a difference in prices exists between IT hardware and software products, including computer games and consoles, e-books and music and videos sold in Australia over the internet or in retail outlets as compared to markets in the US, UK and economies in the Asia-Pacific Establish the extend of the differences and why they exist.
- Determine what the impacts of these differences might be on Australian businesses, governments and households and advise what action might be taken to help address any differences that disadvantage Australian consumers.
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