news The managing director of Apple’s Australian division has reportedly agreed to meet with with Federal Labor MP Ed Husic, almost five months after the politician complained in Parliament about price markups on the company’s products when sold in Australia.
The member for Chifley first raised the matter in Parliament in late March, noting he would write to Apple Australia managing director Tony King on the matter. However, in a follow-up speech last night (Hansard PDF), Husic noted Apple had not responded.
“Amazingly, at the time, I was quietly warned by IT journalists and consumers not to expect a response,” he said. “Chase them up I did; my office followed them up a number of times. They promised that by 16 July, Apple Australia’s managing director Tony King would personally respond to the concerns raised in March once he returned from leave. July 16 came and went. Apple refused to respond, and I am staggered by their behaviour; they’ve snubbed consumer, media and parliamentary interest in this matter.”
However, this morning the Sydney Morning Herald reported that King had finally agreed to a meeting with Husic. “Apple did suddenly find my telephone number and rang me yesterday and we are trying to find a time because I’m in Canberra next week [and] Tony King’s in the States,” Husic reportedly told the newspaper.
It won’t be the first encounter King has had with a local politician, despite the fact that the reclusive Apple executive is rarely seen in public.
In August 2010, then-Tasmanian Premier and former IT consultant David Bartlett hosted a roundtable in the state involving King, on the topic of how Tasmania could boost the development of its technology sector — especially the mobile application area which Apple has a strong position in.
Apple isn’t the only vendor to have been targeted this week by Husic this week on the issue of technology pricing.
Husic also noted he was concerned about the issue of what he described as “glaring price differentials” with respect to other “culprits”, naming Lenovo, which slugged Australians with a $560 markup on its ThinkPad X1 laptop when it was released locally in May, Microsoft, which heavily marked up its Office 365 product in Australia when it launched several months ago, and Adobe, which has regularly marked up its Creative Suite products substantially upon launch in Australia, describing some of the prices as “incredible”.
In response, Adobe stated that the pricing issue was complex, and that it wasn’t just the technology sector which was affected. A Lenovo spokesperson said: “Lenovo’s product pricing structure is based on the local market, not exchange rates, and we ensure our prices are competitive with local market offerings.” Microsoft has not yet responded to a request for comment on the matter.
As has long been chronicled, Apple takes somewhat of a “think different” approach to external relations. More so than any other company, relationships with public figures such as journalists, politicians and executives from rival companies are conducted centrally from Cupertino in the US, with very little autonomy granted to executives like King.
To illustrate this, I’ve never personally met King, or virtually anyone else inside Apple Australia, over the better part of a decade that I’ve been a technology journalist in Australia. The company does not respond to calls, rarely responds to emails and won’t even let you borrow review units to conduct reviews on its products unless you sit through a demonstration process of the products’ features first.
Because of this, I really don’t expect that King even has enough power within Apple to substantially change the way Australian prices are set. I would expect that Australian prices are set globally — and that King’s role locally is more or less just to keep things humming along according to the global plan. So while he has obviously decided it’s worth meeting with Husic — given that five months have passed and the MP appears determined to make this a national issue — I don’t expect any real hard outcomes from the event.
Furthermore, I would expect that King will make some effort to ensure that Husic doesn’t simply broadcast the full content of their conversation to the world.
I would characterise this meeting as something like an irresistable force meeting an immovable object. Apple is perhaps the most stubborn company in the world when it comes to getting its own way. But federal politicians — especially those with Husic’s deep history in the Labor movement — know a thing or two about being stubborn themselves. Husic has faced down Telstra countless times in his previous union roles. Will Apple be able to placate the MP? Only time will tell.