The House of Representatives Committee on Infrastructure and Communications issued a summons to Apple, Adobe, and Microsoft to appear before the Parliament to investigate claims of price gouging and inflation, which they did on Friday.
Questioning has begun, with Labor MP Stephen Jones questioning whether these companies' move to subscription software was placing what he descibed as "digital handcuffs" on users, forcing them to pay regularly in order to continue accessing their files.
The committee is looking at the impacts of prices charged to Australian consumers for IT products, which has been a long-simmering issue for consumers but had never been officially investigated until now.
If a user wanted to buy multiple items of software, or a suite, it would be effectively cheaper to buy a return flight to the US and purchase the software there, rather than paying Australian prices.
The Committee has been examining the issue after receiving complaints from consumer advocates Choice Australia and the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network.
"You'll charge as much as the market can bear," Stephen Jones told company CEOs on Friday.
"Microsoft can charge what it likes and the small businesses of this country have to pay because there is little alternative," he said.
"There is no justification for Australians paying more than consumers in the United States for identical products,” said Choice Head of Campaigns Matt Levey.
“We have heard all sorts of excuses from the tech companies, like claims that Australian wages, rent and taxes are too high and that our warranties are onerous. Our research shows that none of the excuses stack up and the only conclusion is that the technology companies are greedy.
“Today, Adobe, Apple and Microsoft have every opportunity to come clean on their dirty deeds,” said Mr Levey.
Choice.com.au posted five questions they wanted answered at the enquiry, none of which have yet been addressed.
1. Why is it costing Australians 70% more to rock out to AC/DC’s Back in Black on iTunes?
2. Why does it cost a graphic designer in Adelaide $3175 to buy Adobe CS6 Design and Web Premium when a creative in Los Angeles only has to pay $US1899?
3. Why does it cost a small business in Sydney $599 to buy Microsoft’s Office Professional 2013 when a business in San Francisco only has to pay $US399.99?
4. How many of their staff in Australia work on developing software?
5. Who sets the pricing on iTunes - Apple or the music and film industry?
They also posted eight points 'everyone should know' about IT pricing.
1. Australians are paying more for technology goods.
2. Claims of high retail rents in Australia are not an excuse.
3. Suggestions that Australian labour costs are too high are false.
4. Australian warranties are not too onerous.
6. If it is a copyright issue, we’d like to know.
After all, the purpose of this inquiry is to find out the truth.
7. Geo-blocking is a form of trade barrier.
8. You can help us end IT price discrimination by becoming a campaign supporter.
ACCC Chairman Rod Sims meanwhile made a point that his agency will have no choice but to take action against companies if evidence is uncovered of violations of Australian consumer law or competition law.
“If we can find one where we think the representation made looks to be significantly divorced from reality and we think it’s one of general use, then we’ll certainly take action," he said.
The enquiry is continuing this week.