Technology giants 'rip Aussies off'

Andrew Tillett Canberra

Technology giants are gouging consumers with an "Australia tax" by charging more for hardware and software compared with prices in other countries, a parliamentary inquiry has found.

MPs want consumers to be able to fight back and get cheaper prices from overseas by stopping the likes of Microsoft, Adobe and Apple funnelling customers to more expensive local websites.

Amid growing complaints from consumers, the House of Representatives committee compared the prices of hundreds of IT products to prices overseas.

Software was on average 50 per cent more expensive in Australia. The median price difference for hardware was 26 per cent, with the gaps dubbed the "Australia tax".

For music sold through Apple's iTunes, most singles were $US1.29 in America versus $2.19 in Australia - a 67 per cent mark-up.

Consumer group Choice told the inquiry that in the case of one software package it would be cheaper for someone to fly to the US to buy it there because it sold for $8600 more in Australia.

The inquiry found Australia's comparatively smaller population and higher distribution and business costs did not justify higher charges.

It took aim at the practice of "geoblocking" where IT companies forced consumers to buy products from local websites. Perth's Cybertext Consulting chief Rhonda Bracey told the inquiry that when she tried to enter her Australian delivery address on Adobe's website, it transferred her to its Australian sales portal, which charged "incredibly inflated" prices.

MPs have recommended changing competition and copyright laws to let buyers legally circumvent geoblocking and called on the Government to educate consumers and businesses about how to get around these restrictions.

House of Representatives committee chairman Nick Champion told _The West Australian _geoblocking stopped consumers from exercising their right to shop around.

The Australian Information Industry Association, Microsoft and Apple declined to comment.