Home opinion-and-analysis Open Sauce Big tech companies lack one thing – shame

Big tech companies lack one thing – shame

Watching the heads of the Australian arms of Google, Microsoft and Apple sit before a Senate committee and tell one whopper after another is an amazing experience.

You read of these things, but when they are played out live, they provide a different perspective altogether.

Like, do these adults — at least physically, the three are in that stage of life — have no shame? Tony King of Apple, Maile Carnegie of Google, and Bill Sample of Microsoft were not in any way fazed by the fact that the companies they head locally cheat on their taxes.

These are not companies that are doing it tough. These are price-gouging vampires, companies that will pick up a fly out of a curry and lick the curry off the fly to prevent the loss of a dollar. These are companies that get big tax breaks for research and development from a supine Australian government that has shot itself in the foot many times over the years and not bothered to build up any local industry that will decrease the dependence on rapacious entities like the three cited above.

So how do King, Carnegie and Sample feel about their own offspring seeing them prevaricating in this fashion? Not bothered one whit, I bet, because they can sweep it all under the table on the guise that they are doing the best for their shareholders. You won't even see them blush – they are beyond it.

In recent times, we have been relentlessly told by so-called rights holders that we should not steal their wares without paying a fair price. I agree wholeheartedly. What about Google, Microsoft and Apple — and numerous others, these are just the three who were up as exhibits on Wednesday — paying a fair price for the facilities they get in Australia? Or is it stealing when you and I do it, and not when companies do it on a gigantic scale?

Is a stable polity taken for granted? Is living in a relatively safe place a given? Is a pool of labour that suits another given? Some years ago, Paul Gampe, for many years the vice-president of worldwide engineering services and operations at Red Hat, and based in Brisbane, told me that the company — again an American outfit — had found the capital of Queensland the best possible place to base its internationalisation unit because of the number of nationalities living there. Despite the corporate tax rate being higher than in some other places, there are benefits to operating in Australia.

And among them are the R & D funds that companies pick up. Else, believe me, Google, Apple and Microsoft would pack their bags on the morrow. These companies are not doing us any favours – the moment they feel it is not advantageous to operate here, they will pack their bags and leave. I offer you Ford, General Motors and Toyota as evidence.

One of the problems in sheeting home the offence is that the media refuse steadfastly to hold the feet of these gargoyles to the fire. They are often more pitied as flunkies and blame-shifting occurs. That gives them an easy avenue for escape.

But more than anything, the public are to blame. A few days back, Labor Senator Sam Dastyari pointed out the extraordinary example of Starbucks paying more tax than it needed to in Britain in 2013. Until then Starbucks had done something similar to what Google, Microsoft and Apple do in Australia.

The change came about as a result of consumer behaviour. The article is worth reading – for once, someone from the Labor Party has done something worthwhile.

Dastyari wants the Australian tax office to start naming and shaming companies but that is never going to happen.

But what about those famously militant Australian consumers? Will they start boycotting the products of thieves who steal from the public purse? Don't hold your breath – as I've said once before, it appears that the locals are too busy going to the footy, playing the pokies or just getting drunk to even stage a symbolic protest.

The level of apathy that prevails in Australia — which is often mistakenly passed off as being laid-back — means that companies will continue to bilk the public as much as they want. They know there will be no backlash. There is no-one to blame except ourselves. 

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Sam Varghese

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A professional journalist with decades of experience, Sam for nine years used DOS and then Windows, which led him to start experimenting with GNU/Linux in 1998. Since then he has written widely about the use of both free and open source software, and the people behind the code. His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.