|Title||COPYRIGHT AMENDMENT (PARALLEL IMPORTATION) BILL 2002
|Source||House of Reps
|Speaker||Ciobo, Steven, MP
Mr CIOBO (4:47 PM) âI am certainly delighted to rise this afternoon to speak in relation to the Copyright Amendment (Parallel Importation) Bill 2002. This bill serves to amend the Copyright Act 1968 to allow the parallel importing of computer software and computer games as well as parallel importing of books, periodicals and sheet musicâboth in electronic form and print form. I have to say that I was upset when I heard this morning that the ALP indicated that they would not be supporting this bill going through the House. I would have thought that, after seeing the tremendous success that all Australians enjoyed as a result of our lifting parallel importation restrictions with respect to CDs, the Labor Party would have been more up-front in terms of how this was a good thing for Australia.
The legitimate question which can be asked and must be answered by the Howard government is this: why we are seeking to lift these parallel importation restrictions? In short, it can be attributed to the following motivations. It is because the Howard government is focused on consumers, it is focused on the operation of the market and it is focused on the best interests of business, especially small businesses. In addition to this, it is concerned with maintaining Australia's cultural heritage and it is concerned with ensuring that we maintain the fight against piracy. But fundamentally, through passing this bill before the House today and hopefully the Senate in due course, we will permit all Australians to reap the benefits of a more competitive marketplace to ensure that our businesses and our artists remain competitive whilst also operating in an environment that encourages cultural creativity.
This government having previously acted to permit the parallel importation of CDs, the debate today and the arguments that I ever heard from members opposite reflect the same points of deliberation, the same points of discussion and the same issues of conflict that previously existed. Essentially that conflict can be summarised as a conflict between a forward looking, progressive Howard government and a timid, ideologically moribund Labor Party. We have seen an example today of how ideologically the Labor Party has drifted from what it was about. I noticed that at a press conference this afternoon former Labor frontbencher Carmen Lawrence made the decision to resign from the frontbench on the basis of being `disillusioned'âI think that was her wordâwith the Labor Party and being concerned about it being directionless. It seems to me that if the Labor Party is ever going to get back on track and retain people on its front bench it needs to become focused on what it stands for. If it truly stands for all Australians, it would have supported this bill, because what this bill does is enable all Australians to enjoy the benefits of a more competitive marketplace.
I have listened to a number of Labor Party members speak in regard to this bill, outlining how Australia's software industry will collapse and how its gaming, book and music industries will collapse if this bill is passed. We have heard how there will be pirates coming into Australia with crate loads of their pirated CDs, books, software and so on. It reminds me that we heard the same cynical exercise from the former leader of the Labor Party, the member for Brand, before the election in which this government went to the Australian people saying that we would introduce the GST. The Labor Party went around like Chicken Little saying, `If they do this the country will grind to a halt.' In the same style, they are now saying, `If the Howard government gets its way and allows parallel importation, the Australian cultural heritage will become an absolute wasteland.' That, quite frankly, is absolutely, categorically wrong and completely rejected by me and other members on this side of the House.
Before I delve into the sophistry of the Labor Party's arguments, I would like to examine what parallel importation is. It is important that those who are listening to this debate, or who are reading this debate in Hansard, understand exactly what we are proposing to do. It is quite simple. Parallel importation is when we permit the importation of works which have been legitimately purchased overseasâthat is, purchased without infringing on the creator's copyright in the overseas countryâby someone other than the authorised importer. This is an important point, because it does not pertain to someone who is travelling overseas and buys an artist's work without paying a royalty, or where a purchase is not legitimate, and the work is brought back to Australia. Quite the contrary. It simply involves someone purchasing an artist's work overseas, paying a price, the artist receiving a royalty, and importing the work into Australia, even thoughâand this is the crucial factorâthe person is not the authorised importer.
Under the Copyright Act, it has traditionally been the case, subject to these amendments, that an infringement of copyright will occur when an article is imported into Australia for commercial purposes without the copyright owner's consent. Where the importer knew or ought reasonably to have known that the article had been made by the importer in Australia, it would have been an infringement.
In essence, the parallel importation provisions of the Copyright Act allow a copyright owner or exclusive licensee to control the importation into Australia of copyright material, even if the products have been lawfully acquired overseas. So what we are really talking about is a situation in which we legislatively prohibit the importation of material which has been authorised overseas, on the basis of providing legislative protectionâin other words, a monopolyâto a particular importer within this country. The effect of this is that it permits rights to certain owners. It allows those ownersâthat is, those importersâto separate the world market into nice little bite sized pieces, little self-contained segments, that enable them to then secure the greatest return that they can get with respect to the prohibited subject matter. So we break the world up into all these nice bite sized pieces and we say, `You have an exclusive licence to import and distribute in this particular market.' That enables, for all intents and purposes, a monopoly. That monopoly means that the owner can essentially charge the price that they would like in order to get the greatest yield that they can.
Historically it has been the caseâand it continues today to a certain extentâthat copyright material can be partially assigned along geographical lines. The assignee is then assured that when they sell their copyright material within that geographic market, they will be doing so without any real competition from a different source. What we did historicallyâwhen I say `we' I mean the Howard governmentâis to relax the parallel imports laws for certain categories of subject matter, and separate regimes were enacted in legislation that enabled us to permit parallel importation with respect to certain books and sound recording industries.
This bill addresses the current restriction as it applies to the other areasâthings like the remaining books, periodicals, software, games. I have to say that I am hopeful that the Democrats in the Senate will see the inher-ent logic in removing the legislative barriers that currently exist in the Australian market-place. If this bill is passed by the Senate, it will permit importers to bring into Aust-ralia bona fide reproductions that are auth-orised by the artist concerned and that pro--vide royalties to that artist. So concerns about Australians missing out on royalties are not legitimate and cannot be upheld. This bill simply undercuts the monopoly provider to the Australian market, and that is a very good thing.
As I said, we have heard all the arguments that we heard this afternoon from the ALP before. When the Howard government moved to look out for the best interests of all consumers in Australia by lifting the parallel importation restrictions on CDs, it did so following on from the last Labor government. The Financial Review on 20 June 2000 summed it up when it said that the Labor government:
. . . baulked at fixing the problem and left it to the Howard Government to put the interests of consumers ahead of the big companies that control music distribution.
The article goes on:
After freeing the import of CDs and some other branded goods, the Government is right to extend the principle to books and computer software.
The question has to be asked: why is it that, when we freed up parallel importation restric-tions with respect to CDs, the market went very well and there have been no long-term negative consequences as the ALP predicted? Rather, Australians have benefited, Australian consumers have benefited, and the ALP says nothing about that. Yet when the same argument comes up before the House today and we debate whether or not we will extend that same principle to the im-portation of software, electronic games and those types of things, we are meant to say, `Oh no, there's a world of difference. The lessons that we learned when we freed up the CD market are entirely different to the lessons that will apply should we free up the software market.' It does not make any sense at all, and that highlights the falsity of the ALP's arguments. I listened to the member for Barton, the shadow Attorney-General, who raised the ALP's objections to the bill. In my view, those objections can be distilled into the three following points: the issue of com-petitionâand, as a subset of that, the issue of pricingâthe notion of piracy, and their claim that, in the long-term, it will erode Australian talent and the Australian industry.
I certainly am someone who believes very strongly in the free market. I notice that the member for Parramatta is in the chamber; I know he too is a strong believer in the free market. I have to say that, in my mind, one of the key benefits of opening the Australian domestic market to parallel importation is that we enable all Australians to be beneficiaries. We cannot escape this fact, because that is what drives a large part of this policy and we make no bones about it.
Machiavelli saidâthis is often referred to, but I do not have the exact quote with meâthat someone will have their greatest complaints from the stakeholders in an industry when they seek to take away a certain privilege from those stakeholders, but they will have only lukewarm supporters in the wide majority of people that will benefit, although not as much on an individual basis as that one stakeholder who has that right removed. That exactly summarises what is occurring in this particular case. It comes as no surprise to me that, once again, it is the Howard government that stands up for the vast majority of Australians who will benefitâalbeit a couple of dollars here and thereâon each CD they buy, on each book they buy and on the business software they buy. They are the voiceless people who will benefit by only a couple of dollars each but, in total, the benefits are far greater than the screams that we hear from those stakeholders with vested interests who do not want to give up their monopolies.
With respect to pricing, what I am hearing from the Labor Party does not make sense. The Labor Party says, `Look, we're not paying a premium in the Australian marketplace. You can tell we're not paying a premium because, on an international basis, we're very competitive.' If that is the caseâand the member for Curtin highlighted this todayâwhat possible loss can there be to the Australian market by allowing more full and free market competition? The flip side of that coin is that, if the situation is in fact that Australians pay a premium on these productsâwhich I suggest is the caseâand they are paying a premium because they are in a situation where there is only one or a couple of almost monopolistic suppliers to the Australian marketplace, certainly it must be in the interests of all Australians for that premium to be absolved through greater competition in the marketplace.
To give an example of this, I again highlight when we introduced parallel importation of CDs, because it remains fundamentally the same argument we are having today. When we allowed the parallel imports of CDs in July 1998âand I highlight that this was despite widespread screams and claims from the Australian music industry that it would face ruin because of increased threat from overseas companiesâwe saw, both anecdotally and on a broad scale, that prices for the top 100 CDs all crept down. As a result, CDs today are approximately 30 per cent cheaper than they were in 1998.
Was the corollary of this the ALP's claim that the Australian music industry would collapse? No, it was not. The Australian music industry is still as vibrant and strong todayâand possibly even more vibrant and strong todayâas it was in 1998. How can the ALP possibly stand up with any credibility at all in this chamber and say, `Look, we turn our backs on that. We turn our backs on the anecdotal evidence, we turn our backs on the actual evidence that the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission found with respect to the prices of CDs and we say this is an entirely different kettle of fish'? It is not an entirely different kettle of fish at all; it is the same example.
Books are a particular product that is not subject to parallel importation. I have some examples here as quoted in the Age newspaper in 4 April 2001. For example, the book Hannibal, retailing in Australia at the time of this article, was $16.95. In the United States, it was $12.78. All these prices are in Australian dollars, so there is no currency conversion required. The Testament is another example, and it was $16.95 in Australia and $12.78 in the United States. The same applies to The Green Mile, one of the top-selling books at that time. It seems to me that this provides strong evidence, and there is much more evidenceâI have only highlighted a few examplesâthat all Australian consumers pay a premium for these products. It would seem to me, as Christmas draws closer, that the best thing the Labor Party could do to provide a Christmas present for all Australians is to say, `We're going to work with the Howard government to ensure that, when you purchase CDs, books or sheet music, whether it be electronic or in print form, the price of those products will be cheaper as a result of the strong moves that the Howard government has made to ensure that it is in the best interests of everyone.'
I have heard a lot about the issue of privacy. Apparently, if we allow parallel importation, the consequence will be that all Australians will suffer under the weight of pirated recordings, pirated books and all manner of associated products that are pirated overseas and will flood our shores. It is absolute rubbish, because the principal threat to the long-term sustainability of and investment in the Australian artistic industries is the Internet. I am certainly a very strong sup-porter of the Internet. It promises a great deal for everyone throughout the planet but, having said that, it also does present some threats. It will not be pirated CDs, books, mag-azines or software that come flooding into Australian shores as a result of lifting restrictions on parallel importation. What it is, what it will continue to be and what may even possibly accelerate is the opportunity for people to use pirated software or to burn their own CDs, as the member for Rankin made reference to, from the Internet. This is the true problem that we must face and that this government is looking at and will be responding to. You simply do not seek to protect the Australian marketplace by maintain-ing a monopoly for exclusive licensees. That is an absurd way to go about ensuring that the Australian marketplace is protected. You do not make all Australians pay millions of dollars more each and every year on a cumulative basis to say, `We believe we should do this to protect Australia's cultural heritage.'
The member for Rankin also tried to tie Australia's cultural heritage to content rules, but there is a difference. This bill in no way has an impact on local content legislation. We can still maintain the same rules that apply to local content if we pass the bill as we do if we do not pass the bill. What possible justification can there be for some kind of false monopoly to be created and sustained by not passing this bill? Local content rules provide an important safeguard for Australian cultural heritage, and we have moved to protect that. This bill will ensure that Australians are not fundamentally ripped off by paying a premium in the marketplace.
One of the best examples of the groups that will benefit as a result of this bill being passed is small business. The electorate of Moncrieff has the highest concentration of small businesses in the country, and I am certainly delighted that this bill will play an important role in ensuring that the small businesses of Moncrieffâand indeed throughout Australiaâwill have access to cheaper software, games, books, manuals and these types of things as a result of this legislation being passed. Let it be very clear to the Australian people and to Australian small businesses who stands in the way of their having access to cheaper materials like this. The Labor Party stand in the way. The Labor Party say, `No, we'd rather protect the exclusive licensees. We'd rather protect the monopolistic distributors at the expense of all Australians and at the expense of small businesses in Australia.' I am very proud to stand here as part of the Howard government, which freed up importation with respect to CDs. (Time expired)