Billionaire retailer Gerry Harvey today said the debate about foreign retailers not being forced to collect GST on some Australian purchases had been misconstrued to be a battle between companies like his Harvey Norman empire and the internet.
Harvey Norman — along with fellow retail giants Angus & Robertson, Borders, David JOnes, Just Jeans, Myer and more — today published an open letter (PDF) demanding a “fair go” in the retail sector and that international retailers had the edge over Australian rivals as they weren’t forced to collect Goods and Services Tax of 10 percent on purchases under $1,000.
However, Harvey told journalists in Sydney today, the issue had become “confused” and “out of control”, particularly as listeners had hit talkback radio to complain about Harvey Norman’s internet presence — or the lack of it.
“People come on, and they start talking about, oh these retailers are out of date, they haven’t got internet sites, or they should get on the internet more,” he said. “That’s not what we’re talking about. We have overseas retailers, that do not pay duties, that do not pay GST, and we have to compete with them.”
“All we’re saying, is, we want a level playing field.”
Harvey claimed the end game for the situation would be that if international retailers weren’t required to pay GST and import duties, employment in the retail sector would suffer. “Nobody would be employed in the retail sector,” he claimed.
A number of readers and customers this afternoon raised the issue of Harvey Norman’s prices, claiming they were more expensive than rivals — even accounting for the 10 percent GST. Asked about the issue, Harvey reiterated his call for the debate to be about Australian retailers versus international retailers.
“We’re not talking about internet sales in Australia, prices in Australia,” he said. “Unfortunately, that’s where the debate has been going, but that’s not where it should be. It should be squarely about Australian retailers versus overseas retailers.”
At the press event in Sydney’s flagship shopping area of Pitt St Mall, the executive was flanked by David Jones general manager Helen Karlis and International Fashion Group chief executive David Mendels, who backed Harvey’s comments on the GST issue, stating their companies were willing to compete, but wanted a level playing field to do so.
But at least one Australian electronics retailer doesn’t appeared concerned about the GST situation. In late December Kogan Technologies chief Ruslan Kogan — whose Melbourne-based business has positioned itself squarely against Harvey Norman and which has been conducting a pricing, public relations and marketing war against the electronics giant — described the GST efforts as “a scare campaign”.
“Some of these big retailers need to spend less time lobbying the Government to limit the choice of shoppers, and more time worrying about how they can improve their businesses to offer better value to Australians,” wrote Kogan at the time.
Asked about Kogan today, Harvey didn’t appear to want to comment about upstart electronics entrepreneur — who is currently expanding his business into the UK.
“Oh, forget him, I don’t even talk about him, come on,” said Harvey.
Video credit: Delimiter