Higher petrol prices reflect a lack of competition? Don’t think so

The last concerted effort to keep ACT petrol prices in line with those in other capitals was back in the 1990s.

The late, and much missed, Terry Connolly was the relevant ACT minister. Since then, reams of official verbiage notwithstanding, the industry here has done much as it has pleased. Government has lazily parroted the claim that higher prices just reflect a ‘‘lack of competition’’, perhaps forgetting that it’s actually government’s duty to promote competition and curtail price gouging.

The ACT government could act to tie petrol prices here to a reference price. Photo: Fairfax

The ACT government could act to tie petrol prices here to a reference price. Photo: Fairfax

In reality, with or without assistance from the feds, the ACT government could act to tie petrol prices here to a reference price — something like ‘‘no more than 5¢ a litre above the NSW average’’. It seems to have no qualms about imposing price controls on ACT landlords. It could enact a super-normal profits tax or threaten to raise licensing fees on ACT fuel outlets that charged over the odds.

The ACT government could also release new ACT sites to noted discounters such as Costco. Government also appears unwilling to front Coles (trading as Coles Express) about the way it uses its considerable market power in the ACT petroleum market. Coles has a significant proportion of ACT sites and its market presence is boosted by related commercial tie-ins. The ACCC website lists Coles Express as among the highest price petrol retailers nationally.

Tellingly, the gap between prices here and elsewhere seems to have widened to now about 25¢ a litre just after Woolworths left the national retail petroleum market in November 2018. A coincidence? Maybe.

If the ACT government doesn’t want to legislate tocontrol prices or act toencourage new market entrants, then it should at leasttell Coles that that new$69million development it wants in Dickson won’t begoing anywhere fast until ACT petrol prices start to looka lot more like those inAustralia’s other mainland capital cities.

Shame at memorial

Various matters on Australia Day were thought provoking, but two have lingered. The rewarding read about Meredith Atilemile, voluntary guide at the Australian War Memorial (‘‘Voluntary work reveals family history’’, p20) underlined the valuable resource the AWM is. Then the sobering wonder about where our priorities are was brought into sharp focus in observing two men at a local suburban shopping centre on the same Australia Day, selling lottery tickets to help support enlisted and retired service personnel, victims of the scourge of PTSD and or worse still, suicide.

The director of the AWM said he was not embarrassed about getting nearly half a billion dollars for an extension that will involve demolition of an award-winning building. Perhaps he is right, as after all if you don’t ask, you won’t get. Equally those who agreed that this was an appropriate allocation of scarce resources and signed off on it should not be embarrassed either.
No, they should be bloody well ashamed.

The destroying drone

If the ACT government truly cared about ‘‘improving time-poor Canberrans’ quality of life’’ as stated in The Canberra Times on January 27, how about they start by taking seriously the real life feedback Bonython residents have given them about the negative impact delivery drones have had on their everyday lives?

Hundreds of us under the flight path of these aircraft have had our basic right to the peaceful amenity of our homes and suburb destroyed. Can’t go for a walk in peace, it’s too noisy. Can’t lie down and rest if you’re ill during the day because the drones keep waking you up. I work from home and have my thoughts interrupted all day by the noise of the drones. My children find it hard to concentrate on school work because of the invasive nature of the high-pitched drone noise. Dogs in the suburb are so distressed by the buzzing of the drones that there is endless barking. What sort of quality of life does my family have with delivery drones? None.

Flight of stupidity

Thanks, Neville Exon, for your letter (Letters, January 26) challenging the notion that it is somehow tech-savvy and smart to deliver pizzas and coffee by drone to Canberra suburbs. The slogan you suggest, ‘‘Canberra: the Drone Capital’’, offers an opportunity for local politicians to really think about what smart means. If the ACT government is serious about introducing a wellbeing index, it should do all it can to ensure noisy and invasive commercial drones over Canberra suburbs are banned. They are quality of life destroyers.

Works off the rails

Why do Metro employees have carte blanche over all and everything to do with roadworks on Northbourne Avenue, and further along the track, during this tedious stretch of light rail work?

Each day of the week you will see witches hats blocking off parts of lanes north and south, with visibly no workers working within the confines of the hats. Why is this so and why is this allowed to bring peak hour traffic, AM and PM, to what appears to be a totally unnecessary gridlock?

Is it fair that this work behaviour is tolerated and not commented on or acted upon by the ACT government?

This is another issue being disregarded and tolerated by commuters up and down Northbourne, including the Federal Highway and Flemington Road. And will this continue through until April? I have no doubt it will given the disregard shown to date since the works began.

On the right track

Thank you to the ACT government for the best new bicycle track in town: the light rail corridor from Gungahlin to the city.

Features include a smooth concrete riding surface, its own traffic lights, cyclists separated from road traffic, easy passage across intersections (no gutters), floodlit at night and no tolls or fares.

Enjoy the panoramic views of Canberra’s new and prestigious boulevard. Even if the trams start, they’ll be infrequent and easy to dodge. Watch out, however, for phone-distracted pedestrians crossing and falling limbs of brittle gums.

Advance Australia

Recent days have seen pious sanctimoniacs telling us how offensive January 26, 1788, is to our Indigenous people. Two facts are immutable: the date marks the first day of a neolithic people’s journey into modernity, and, so far, none have demanded a regression.

The left’s litmus test

What do renewable energy, pill testing and hydrogen power have in common? All are loved by the left but lack the technology to do the job and look like staying that way for decades. Knowing that, I will vote accordingly.

Laws need shaking up

Re: ‘‘Building defects ‘a crisis’’’ (January 28, p1).

The observation that ‘‘structural and design flaws would exist in most new high-rise developments in the nation’s capital’’ should alert government to a serious problem, surely.

Given the factors cited by the experts this problem is not restricted to new buildings, the crisis has existed for decades.

That flaws in design and construction are showing up in normal usage, under normal loads such as gravity, wind, temperature and rain, begs the question of what will happen the next time the ACT is shaken by a strong earthquake.

There is nothing like a good shake to find the flaws in buildings and if they weren’t designed and built for normal environmental loads then how well were they designed and built for earthquake loads as they are required to be under the Australian Building Code?

How many certifiers in the ACT are experienced enough to check that seismic design features are incorporated in the building and its foundations during its construction.

Government is the first responder after disasters such as earthquakes but without engineers how will the ACT government respond?

To whom will they outsource response and recovery? We seem to have learnt nothing from the earthquake disaster in Newcastle in December 1989.

The art of accepting gifts

Reading the article in The Canberra Times’ Forum section on Saturday ‘‘Corporate largesse – and what’s behind it’’ (January 26, p6) I realised how much the public service has changed since I occupied a junior clerical position in the arts department in the ’80s.

I was part of a team administrating a taxation scheme aimed at promoting the Australian film industry. It was mainly a routine processing job based on tax office legislation. However film producers were, understandably, always in a hurry to find out if their film qualified. At the end of one application process I was able to tell a happy producer that the minister had approved her film for taxation assistance.

Some days later I received a modest box of chocolates from the producer. Naturally I consulted my section head to find out what I should do with the chocolates. After some deliberation and discussion with the assistant secretary I was told I could accept the chocolates as long as I shared them with the rest of the section and informed the producer what I had done.

Zero in on drug problem

R Salmond (letters, 17/1) claims that ‘‘zero tolerance ... hasn’t been tried’’ and that it ‘‘would reduce use of illegal drugs’’.

If we ignore the past ineffectiveness of tougher, stricter drug laws, we could look at the success, or lack thereof, of the many nations that have zero tolerance. Many have the death penalty for drug dealing and hefty imprisonment for drug use. One nearby country’s president even encouraged extrajudicial killings of drug users, which police have started.

And yet the drug use in these countries continues, and in many cases even increases, or at least the damage to the community does, as the zero tolerance drives practices more underground.

It may help fill our jails (which is good for the private prison industry) and create an underclass who would be more willing to go into crime with their exposure to it through prisons (all of which is happening in many of the zero-tolerance jurisdictions).

The evidence is that zero tolerance appeases only those with a vindictive sense of justice. Overall it is bad for the community.

Taken to task on tax

Bruce Porter (Letters, January 21) cries wolf and defies logic in comparing the PAYG system with dividend imputation refunds (DIRs).

PAYG still means paying tax (which might include getting a refund if your PAYG contributions are greater than your final net tax liability).

And if you manage to finish up with minus zero tax liability you will still only get back the amount you have paid through PAYG (or that’s what I assume, because I have never been in that happy position).

On the other hand, the DIR system, allows some people who have not paid tax, PAYG or otherwise, to get a refund. And think for a moment, what does the word ‘‘refund’’ mean? Logically, you can’t get a refund on zero.

Furthermore, this exists, not in order to create greater equity, but simply because it was an opportunistic ‘‘cash-splash’’ by the Howard government.

The bottom line is, how is it fair when some are able to get such ‘‘refunds’’ while others are not, and especially when the cost is borne by those who do pay tax?

Privileged pollie quits

Kelly O’Dwyer quit for one reason as far as I can see. And that is, her family can afford for her to.

How very nice for her, unlike many other women who miss out on the joys and key moments of their offspring’s lives because they can’t afford not to work.

Call me cynical, but I don’t see any virtue in such resignations, particularly at times when they affect the political landscape.

These are not the only family-conscious people – most of us are. It’s all very well to contemplate women’s working situations, but let’s save our empathy for lower paid females in the workplace.

Maybe no parliamentarian should be allowed to quit before an election loss or retirement age until we have a more equitable society and others can also comfortably leave behind their long working days to enjoy their kids’ key moments.

After all, it isn’t an ordinary job and so shouldn’t be for ordinary people seeking to maximise benefit from their position.

It’s not a private enterprise but seems to operate as such on so many levels.

Palmer enjoys spotlight

The media should stop giving Clive Palmer the oxygen he feeds on. The man is just a rich, bored loudmouth who has always had riches beyond what we, the great unwashed, can only dream of.



Tell ScoMo the first circumnavigation of Australia was by Matty Flinders (British) and Bungaree, an Australian. When Cook mapped the east coast it was known as New Holland. The Dutch had been here a long time before James. It was known to the British at first as New South Wales. It became Australia on January 1, 1901.

Peter Best, Weetangera


There should be a law that when it reaches 34 degrees, one TV station must show interesting programs.

Steve Thomas, Yarralumla


To take Max Brown’s logic further (Letters, January 29), we could concrete the entire land surface of Canberra to increase the amount of rainfall running off to assist river health and farmers downstream. The ACT government’s planning rules seem designed to do this anyway.

Robyn Coghlan, Hawker


It’s amazing how important politicians’ families become to them when they realise their government has become a sinking ship.

Gordon Fyfe, Kambah


Mr Shorten’s request for the Australian Academy of Science to investigate the causes of the mass fish kill in NSW is to be commended. Science should always prevail over ideology. As expected, the Liberals have called this a stunt. They don’t believe in science but they do believe in playing politics.

Ray Armstrong, Tweed Heads South, NSW


The closer the next federal election comes, the less is Labor’s need of a drover’s dog – present indications are that it could be led to victory by a headless chook.

M.F. Horton, Adelaide, SA


So John Howard is the secret weapon in the NSW government’s election campaign.
Is it the same formula they road tested in Wentworth recently? Good grief.

Linus Cole, Palmerston


Scott Morrison’s prediction Australia will go into recession under Labor is a drowning man’s desperate attempt to clutch a straw.

Sankar Kumar Chatterjee, Evatt


Two men share Australian of the Year for volunteering for a dangerous rescue and saving 17 lives.

Virginia Haussegger intends to use her title of ACT Australian of the Year ‘‘to include men [in] gender inequality discussion’’.

Seems fair to me, I will even pay for her SCUBA lessons.

John Coochey, Chisholm

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