Comments from Harvey Norman boss Gerry Harvey last week have opened up a heated debate among online and store retailers.

Channelnews reported that Gerry Harvey said that Australian retailers could lose up to $1 billion in GST revenue every year because of the Australian dollars current value against the US dollar. Currently, no duty applies to Australians who buy goods worth less than $1000 from overseas online sites.

Harvey criticised a supposed government attitude that the tax is too hard to implement.

The fact that people say (the tax) is too hard, that is bullshit,” he said. “Other countries do it. We can do it.

The government cant just ignore it,” he said. “They cant just say it is too hard, it is too much money … it is sending retailers broke.

Assistant treasurer Bill Shorten said the government was possibly open to bringing in the tax. 

“It deserves serious examination,” Shorten told Fairfax media, “and while the threshold is good for consumers, we need to balance that against the interests of retailers and the administrative burden on businesses.

But Julian Holman, founder and CEO of online group buying site OurDeal, spoke up for online retailers and dismissed Harvey’s tax proposal.

“Retailers are trying to take the easy option by lobbying the government to tax their competition rather than improving their own operations online,” he said. “Currently, Australian retailers are not on par with the rest of the world in terms of effectively marketing and selling online and need to improve in these areas if they are to compete in a global marketplace. Gerry Harvey’s notion that we should tax customers for using a more convenient, cost effective channel is not the solution as customers should not be punished for shopping online.”

Holman also encouraged store retailers to open their minds to online sales.

“Retailers need to move away from their comfortable bricks and mortar operations and realise there is such a large potential online,” he said. Online sales are growing at a much faster rate than their retail counterparts meaning the audience is there, but businesses need to provide the right products at the right price to reach them. Offline businesses must look closely at their options in the online space and realise online retailers are not going to go away.”