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Oz parliament may investigate tech price discrimination

Gouging to go under microscope?

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Australians should get ready for a publicity assault by rent-seeking vendors, with reports emerging that the Australian government is likely to launch an inquiry into price gouging, otherwise known as price discrimination.

The year-long campaign by MP Ed Husic against vendors gouging Australian IT buyers may finally result in a parliamentary inquiry, according to Crikey.

As Crikey notes – and as also discussed in El Reg – Australian consumers aren’t only gouged for IT products, but it’s in the tech and consumer electronics sectors that the consumer backlash is gathering pace.

That backlash is being exploited by outlets like Kogan, JB HiFi and others, which have enraged vendors and local retailers by offering parallel-import retail to shave prices below local Websites – something that draws the inevitable dire warnings about grey markets.

Late last year, Nikon and Pentax began cranking up the fear machine, warning consumers that “grey market” imports might have non-compliant power supplies (which makes El Reg wonder in which countries these high-profile names would risk their reputations).

The thread is thin at the moment, with Crikey only able to state that parliament is considering an inquiry. That story also notes that legal moves to end the “not in America” tax would have very limited reach, since overseas entities can’t be made subject to competition law.

An inquiry would, however, put a public blowtorch to vendors’ bellies. Since Husic, at least, would be aware that Australia’s Productivity Commission has already dismissed the standard defenses of price discrimination as “not persuasive” (read: "lame and dishonest"), noting in particular that arguments about rents, salaries and shipping costs don’t stack up when the product in question is a purely digital item downloaded from overseas servers. ®

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