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Save $25m by ditching parallel imports: PC

AAP logoAAP 20/12/2016

The federal government should move to make books cheaper in the next year and save Australians about $25 million annually, the Productivity Commission believes.

The recommendation to repeal parallel import restrictions - made for the eighth time - is part of its latest report to government on intellectual property arrangements, made public on Tuesday.

Nowadays Australian booksellers are prevented from purchasing stock from lower priced suppliers overseas, meaning they are at a competitive disadvantage.

Australians who can't purchase books online also end up paying higher prices, the commission says.

"No fewer than eight past reviews, including by the commission, and most recently by the Harper Competition Policy Review, have recommended that prohibitions on parallel imports be repealed," it writes.

Responding to what the commission describes as "false claims", it compared more than 1000 like-for-like titles sold in the UK and Australia, as well as 400 sold in Australia and the US.

"Over three-quarters of the books in the sample were more expensive in Australia than the UK, with Australian prices around 20 per cent higher," it found.

"Under reasonable assumptions regarding discounting and freight costs, the commission estimates the benefits to Australians from repealing the restrictions could be around $25 million per year."

The commission rejected arguments from the publishing industry that changes would result in the demise of local publishing and harm authors, describing them as unconvincing.

"No new evidence was presented in this inquiry that overturns the existing case for removing the restrictions."

The federal government supports the repeal of the restrictions on the back of the previous Harper review, but Labor plans to oppose the changes to the Copyright Act.

Australian author Richard Flanagan described the report as predictable, and as a 1980s ideology in search of a victim.

"The Productivity Commission is like a deranged hairdresser insisting their client wears a mullet wig," he said.

"At this time of economic difficulty I hope the government rejects the report and seeks to help the book industry, its 20,000 strong work force, and the creators who bring Australia global good will, pay taxes, and effectively receive no direct taxpayer subsidy."

His view was shared by author Thomas Keneally, who urged his "old friend" Malcolm Turnbull to make it a bipartisan matter.

"Comparison with New Zealand, which has done away with (parallel import restrictions), shows the book prices there are no cheaper. But the range, oh the range! - it is gone."

Australian Publishers Association president Louise Adler accused the commission of ignoring more than 400 expert submissions in response to its draft report.

"These proposals risk Australia's ability to publish great Australian stories by the next generation of talent," she said.

"Imagine an Australian childhood without books like Diary of a Wombat, Possum Magic, the Treehouse series; or great Australian writing like Cloudstreet and True History of the Kelly Gang."

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