Billionaire retailer Gerry Harvey yesterday said that the debate about foreign retailers not being forced to collect GST on some Australian purchases had been misconstrued as a battle between the internet and companies like his own Harvey Norman empire.
Harvey Norman — along with fellow retail giants Angus & Robertson, Borders, David Jones, Just Jeans, Myer and more — published an open letter (PDF) demanding a "fair go" in the retail sector. They said that international retailers had the edge over Australian rivals as the former weren't forced to collect the Goods and Services Tax of 10 per cent on purchases under $1000.
However, Harvey told journalists in Sydney yesterday that the issue had become "confused" and "out of control", particularly as listeners 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"People come on, and they start talking about, 'oh these retailers are out of date, they haven't got internet sites, or they should get on the internet more'," he said.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."
At the press event in Sydney's flagship shopping area 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, saying that their companies were willing to compete, but wanted a level playing field to do so.
Yet at least one Australian electronics retailer hasn't appeared concerned about the GST situation. In late December Kogan Technologies chief Ruslan Kogan positioned his Melbourne-based business squarely against Harvey Norman and has been conducting a pricing, public relations and marketing war against the electronics giant. Kogan 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.
Harvey yesterday didn't appear to want to comment about the 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.