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At the end of the day the internet gives us competition for pricing in Australia.”

Assistant Treasurer Bill Shorten said the big retailers should rethink their campaign. ”I get quite upset when I read some of the disparaging comments about Gerry Harvey and Solomon Lew because, whatever you think of them personally, they started with nothing and have become successful.”

Mr Harvey was not surprised by the backlash ”because people are not quite getting it”. Mr Brookes yesterday confirmed that Mr Lew had initiated the campaign. ”You might ask some questions about why a Panasonic 40-inch flat screen is less than $400 in the US and is $1000 in Australia. But a Board of Taxation report last year said ditching the $1000 threshold would cost more than it recovered in tax and currently cannot be enforced. He said the group was not arguing against online shopping; it just wanted a level playing field. ”The costs are higher per head in Australia than anywhere else in the developed world,” he said. He said most people could not afford ”million-dollar advertising campaigns” but the Productivity Commission process would offer everyone ”the opportunity to have their say on a level playing field”. ”You’ve got a retail store offshore that doesn’t pay duty or GST competing with an Australian store that does,” he said. ”But the GST component of the Australian TV is $100, so the consumer is not going to be swayed by saving the GST on purchases. By December 23 a draft version of the advertisement had been prepared and was being circulated by Mr Lew’s long-time public relations agency, FD. A November study by Access Economics came to a similar conclusion, saying online competition was ”beneficial to consumers and therefore should not be restricted”. ”Sol is the driving force behind all this,” he said. The Myer head also said he was surprised at ”this much anger” against the big retailers. Retailers have been lobbying over the exemption for at least two years, pointing out that other countries have far lower exemption thresholds. The coalition wants an end to the GST exemption for imported goods worth less than $1000. This would put it in conflict with other retail trade groups, which have largely shunned the campaign in favour of working with a Productivity Commission review of the retail industry. The issue flared about three months ago when retail chiefs used annual meetings and results announcements to air their concerns. George Svinos, of KPMG’s retail group, said the onus was on retailers to strike better deals with suppliers, rather than demand tax breaks. ”I’m not sure suggesting the government impose a tax on consumers is the best way of competing with overseas online retailers,” he told The Age. A series of phone calls between executives followed, with a major phone hook-up bringing key players together just before Christmas.
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THE business tycoons demanding the imposition of GST on Australians’ overseas online purchases have vowed to extend their advertising campaign despite a public backlash against them and calls for retailers to concentrate on lifting their own performances. The coalition, fronted by Myer head Bernie Brookes and backed by billionaires Solomon Lew and Gerry Harvey, also plans to incorporate as a formal body, capping months of behind-the-scenes manoeuvres. Two new full-page advertisements are set to appear in major newspapers this week and the group is considering buying airtime on radio and TV.