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Monday, 1 September 2014
Page: 9275

Mr HUSIC (Chifley) (11:47): A few weeks ago someone alerted me to a problem they were experiencing accessing, of all things, an e-book. The e-book had been purchased in the US using an account the person had set up when they lived there. They have now moved back to Australia and in the course of downloading their apps to a new tablet discovered a problem. This person has a US account for the book app and an Australian account. On attempting to download their US purchases, a blunt warning appeared saying the device is already associated with a US account and if you download purchases with this account you cannot auto-download or download past purchases for 90 days.

Remember the days when you could buy a book, read it and pass on a good read to someone else? The only time you had to wait 90 days for that book is perhaps if you were shipping it from overseas. But in the digital age what has happened to reading a book and doing with it what you wanted? In the information age, things are actually happening to make it harder to access and distribute information. Things like the terms and conditions underpinning e-books have meant the rights and privileges previous consumers enjoyed with a paperback have ended with e-books. You can only enjoy permission to access the book; you do not own the book in any physical sense. The authors in the creative sector will tell you it is a way of clamping down on the serious problem of internet piracy, and I can sympathise with the argument to a degree, but the sellers have monetised data, squeezing more for their product—and competition law and international trade treaties let them do this. The overreach now appears to extend to people who have legitimately purchased data. They have exchanged currency, they have purchased an item, they have ownership and they are still denied access to what they own.

Now, some may argue that this is a copyright issue and we need to loosen the 'digital handcuffs'. That is a term coined by my colleague and friend the member for Throsby, Stephen Jones, when we were sitting on the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Infrastructure and Communications inquiry into IT pricing, which generated a lot of attention, especially from Australian consumers, who felt they had been taken for granted and complained about delayed access to new digital products relative to consumers in other countries while being slugged up to 50 per cent more for the privilege.

Copyright, as I have mentioned, could be the culprit, and there is something to be said about competition law because today, nearly a year after seeing this government of slips, trips and fumbles come to office, it is patting itself on the back for launching yet another review, this time into competition law. But let us look at its track record on freeing up restrictions on digital products.

The report that I am referring to, At what cost? IT pricing and the Australia tax, delivered recommendations to fight this consumer rip-off, and both the electronic and paper versions sit with the Minister for Communications. It urged that competition law be amended and it dealt with some of the things that are in this resolution. Mr Turnbull, the minister, agrees that these types of practices are unfair. He has said:

I think that as we move into more of a . . . global digital economy, the ability to have different limits on rights and licences from one jurisdiction to another is becoming more futile …

Given his apparent support, he has been nudged for a response by the Financial Review and The Australian. When asked to respond, he said he would do it within the first anniversary of the report. That anniversary was on 29 July. We still do not have a response.

Instead, the government is busy doing the bidding of big business. It is obsessed with internet piracy while not taking a look a why Australia tops the chart for piracy. Why not take a look at another chart we top, digital product prices? As Communications Alliance, the industry body, advised the committee, artificial barriers to content, such as geoblocking, are 'a classic generator of online piracy'. Where the big players have made products easier, safer and more price sensitive, you have seen ample evidence of positive changes in consumer behaviour. The best response to piracy is a market led response, but consumers stand aghast as the market skews towards business. Business will always give a full-throated call for deregulation as long as it can game competition and copyright regulation in its favour.

Considering this, my message to the government, on behalf of millions of frustrated consumers, is: stop seeing everyone of these consumers as an internet pirate; respond to the IT pricing inquiry report; and ensure competition and copyright law can unshackle the digital handcuffs on Australian consumers. It is time that there were a fairer deal for the consumer. That time is well and truly here. Australian consumers have suffered long enough. If you want to be fair dinkum about competition policy and competition law reform, act on the matters that have inhibited consumers getting a better deal, some of the things that even the member for Hughes referred to in dealing with price discrimination. If you are fair dinkum about that, you will act rather than talk.

Debate adjourned.