The return of the IT price inquiry

After many months of political argy-bargy and idle threats, Australia’s largest tech vendors have a confession to make; albeit a forced one. 

In just over a month’s time, on March 22, Apple, Microsoft and Adobe will appear before inquiry and – hopefully – explain the so-called “Australia tax” that’s applied on all of the vendor’s products. In case you haven’t noticed, we usually pay more for tech products in Australia than our overseas counterparts do and the excuses for why that is the case seem to get more inane with each rendition. 

That's not to say that the vendors in question have stayed silent, it's just that they have preferred to do their explaining behind the shadows. Adobe has until now let the industry body  Australian Information Industry Association (AIIA), do the heavy lifting. Meanwhile, Apple has given evidence under strict lock and key.

The whole affair may just be one giant toothless talk-fest, and we may hear nothing that hasn’t already been said to the inquiry in all of the tech giant’s previous submissions. But regardless, the revelation is a sign of progress and is no doubt welcome news for the IT price inquiry faithful, many of whom have followed the campaign since its inception a couple of years ago.

As Apple, Adobe and Microsoft get ready to front the inquiry, the process should now, at the very least, provide some clarity on the mechanics of the pricing system.

It’s also a huge win for the MP who first held aloft the banner of revolt against the egregious pricing, the Labor member for Chifley, Ed Husic. 

Husic has really ridden to new heights off this cause. The humble backbencher has slowly, but surely spun this issue from a whinge about product prices into a debate in microeconomics that has significant implications for Australia’s national economy. 

Prior to this announcement, you could be forgiven for thinking that Husic had given up the chase, having very little to say on the inquiry and instead backing Assistant Treasurer David Bradbury’s campaign to sap tax revenue out of the tech giants. But it would seem he was just taking a break, not calling it quits.

Husic move to pull the tech giant’s in front of the inquiry was a long time coming. He first threatened to subpoena the companies back in September. We then heard that claim echoed by his counterparts for a couple of months. And now, five months after the fact, we’re finally seeing him keep his promise.

Given the sudden nature of the announcement, you can’t but think this whole event is timed to coincide with that other major political happening: the election.

Think about it. Bringing Microsoft, Apple and Adobe in front of the public inquiry will draw plenty of attention to the government, in a year where they need all of the positive attention that they can get.

Regardless of the politics at play, Husic’s gambit to bring the tech giants in front of the inquiry should be praised for its indignant tone and its insistent pursuit.

The tech companies concerned hold a significant amount of weight in Australia, particularly with the services they provide and the top IT talent they employ. 

For a government to wage war with some of the world’s largest companies during an election year is bold to say the least.  It didn’t bode so well for Labor when they tried to take on the miners. For the sake of fairer prices, let's hope they do fare a bit better with the tech giants. 

All that being said, its still uncertain as inquiry will bring about any change. But at least it’s showing signs of progress and that’s the best we can hope for right now