Why Are Apple and Microsoft Under Scrutiny Down Under?

Australian users pay more than those in most other countries for music and software downloads, and now the government is asking technology companies why. Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) and Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) are among those being asked to explain the price anomaly to the country’s Parliament.

Australia’s communications minister, Stephen Conroy, has ordered the parliamentary inquiry, which will begin later this year and will be conducted by the House of Representatives standing committee on infrastructure and communications.

Adobe (NASDAQ:ADBE) is also part of the questioning after having launched its Creative Suite 6 last week. The standard version of the software costs $1,299 in the U.S., but customers in Australia will have to pay up to $1,400 more. The report in Sydney Morning Herald also compares the $349 price tag of Microsoft Office 2010 Professional in the U.S. to $849 in Australia. Apple’s Mac OS Snow Leopard costs about $200 more. Prices are also higher for downloads from Apple’s iTunes.

“People here scratch their heads trying to work out why they get fleeced on software downloads,” Ed Husic, a member of the Australian House of Representatives, told the newspaper.

The inquiry will also target e-book prices, an issue that Apple is already fighting an antitrust suit from the U.S. Department of Justice over.

Last month, Apple had been in trouble in the country after being accused of “misleading” customers. The Australian Competition & Consumer Commission said the company’s third-generation iPad wrongly advertised that it could run on 4G when the device was actually incompatible with the country’s LTE network. Apple updated its marketing and also offered customers a full refund.