ACT News

Andrew Barr asks ACCC to investigate Canberra petrol prices

ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr.
ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr. Photo: Jeffrey Chan

Chief Minister Andrew Barr has asked the competition watchdog to investigate Canberra's long-standing high petrol prices. 

On Thursday Mr Barr wrote to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission boss Rod Sims,  seeking an investigation into the higher prices Canberra motorists pay compared to drivers in other capital cities. 

Mr Barr said the request followed the Abbott government's directions to the ACCC for more investigation into the price at the pump. Small Business Minister Bruce Billson called this week for more timely and targeted monitoring of the fuel industry in Australia by the regulator. 

"Petrol prices have long been an issue of concern to motorists in the Australian Capital Territory," Mr Barr said. 

"In particular, the price disparity between Canberra and other capital cities has long been a source of frustration. It is disappointing that the price in Canberra is frequently higher than in other cities and the immediate areas surrounding the capital."

Mr Barr asked the ACCC to establish why Canberra motorists paid more than nearby locations and what action could be taken to deliver lower prices to ACT drivers. 

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"The ACT government, and myself as the newly elected Chief Minister, share the concerns of territory motorists," he said. 

Mr Sims said on Wednesday the new direction from the government would allow the ACCC to provide quarterly reporting on price movements around Australia and allow for consideration of the elements of the fuel market that were of particular concern to consumers.

"The ACCC has a dedicated team and resources to carry out these functions," he said.

Canberra's latest petrol price war ignited this month, as the first Costco petrol station began trading at Majura Park. The American discount giant has brought reduced prices in a number of locations, as members benefit from discounting at the stations and nearby retailers drop their prices to compete. 

Only members can fill up at a Costco petrol station – with a membership card required for presentation to operate the bowser – but motoring group NRMA and the ACT government welcomed the operator's arrival in Canberra. 

Costco is already a big petrol retailer in the United States, using the lure of heavily discounted fuel to sell memberships, at a cost of $60, which also gives customers access to discounted groceries at the company's nearby warehouse. 

Last year, a University of New England Business School study found Canberra was one of 28 regions nationally where motorists were more likely to pay too much for petrol. 

The five-year study found the ACT and NSW combined had 30 per cent of petrol stations that were guilty of price fluctuations labelled "rocket and feather" pricing. 

In the phenomenon pump prices rocket up when wholesale fuel prices increase, while the downward price pressure is passed on to consumers much slower.

Canberra prices reduced nearly five times slower than the rate of increase, while the capital also had higher-than-expected gross profit margins.

Other locations suffering from asymmetric pricing were i the Gold Coast, Hobart, Brisbane metro areas and Cooma.

The ACCC said it would begin providing more information on petrol price reporting next month.