EDITORIAL: Of great import

An interesting and anonymous correspondence arrived this week adding a touch of intrigue to an otherwise standard week of downsizing, company administrations, buyer indifference and sporting triumph over New Zealand.

This missive highlighted a scam that manipulates GST rebates on export items. I'm not going to go into details of how it works until I get some answers from Customs, but its simplicity is astounding.

It exploits the minimal resources applied by Federal agencies to control imports and exports and delivers the same old blow to legitimate operators, who find it impossible to compete on price.

To be fair, it's a big ask to have every box coming into the country 100 per cent verified that it is what its documentation declares it to be, but surely some effort is warranted.

Meanwhile, with a Federal election looming, the rhetoric and pork-barrelling is in full swing. Maybe, just maybe, the information and communications technology industry (ICT), as politicians like to call it, is making its way up the priority list.

When Kim Beazley fired the ALP's big guns in his official campaign launch speech last week, a Knowledge Nation vision was core. I suspect the Liberal Party campaign managers were leaked a copy of the speech as a torrent of press releases arrived from the office of IT Minister Senator Richard Alston on the afternoon leading up to Beazley's bluster.

If re-elected - there's always an "if" since this is politics - Alston was promising money left, right and centre for research and development, e-commerce enablement for local governments in South Australia, and "telecentres" in regional South Australia.

Beazley's overwhelming focus on jobs and education, which included specific references to ICT opportunities, of course had to be countered by his adversary and, suddenly, IT was back on the political agenda.

So what's in this election for the reseller and the IT distribution channel as a whole? What do we want from the next Federal Government?

Of course, the questions are conundrums. Any answer would be open to conjecture and opinions would have as many opponents as they would supporters.

Unfortunately, the GST is here to stay. The ALP's plan to roll back some aspects of the tax will free up some funds for families and the Knowledge Nation initiative has all the right rhythms to it, but can the ALP pull it off?

Another issue raised by both parties is that of the parallel importing of CDs, which of course affects packaged software. The ALP has grandstanded by saying it will roll back the parallel importing concessions granted by the current Government, which then hit back by saying this would favour big international corporations over smaller importers.

The next move by Labor would be to free up other closed markets, which could further open the floodgates for third-party consumables and storage media.

Even in the debate over parallel importing, I would imagine opinions in the channel are divided. Many distributors and resellers have built their businesses around exclusive supply agreements while others are champing at the bit for an opportunity to break into markets where supply arrangements are carefully controlled by vendors and distributors.

Perhaps most of all, the channel really wants better import and export controls by Customs to create a level playing field for all. We would like to see harsher treatment of the tax cheats and Phoenix companies, which go broke and then re-emerge in another location to rip off a whole new set of customers.