Canberra's pump prices for standard unleaded petrol should be as much as 18 cents a litre less than they are at present, with the current slump in international oil prices reflecting how badly oil companies are gouging local motorists.
NRMA spokesman Peter Khoury said the 118 cents a litre average price in Canberra was not indicative of the current international oil price which had fallen below US$45 a barrel in the wake of the huge drop in global demand due to COVID-19.
"Based on an average pump price of about 140 cents a few months ago, an oil price drop of this magnitude should have passed on a savings to Canberra motorists of around 40 cents per litre, which should have taken the price to around, or a little under, the $1 a litre mark for standard unleaded," he said.
"This clearly hasn't happened, so once again Canberra motorists are hugely disadvantaged as opposed to the sub-$1 per litre prices being offered in other metropolitan markets."
Artificially inflated petrol prices in Canberra have been a thorny issue for the ACT government which last year conducted a bipartisan ACT Assembly inquiry into ways of delivering sharper prices for Canberra motorists.
The seven-month inquiry recommended the same type of on-line fuel price monitoring system, called Fuel Check, which operates in NSW and which according to the NRMA has had a positive effect on that market's fuel pricing, and delivered greater price transparency.
"I think the current fuel pricing situation is best described as an opportunity lost for Canberra," Mr Khoury said.
"There is less demand for fuel because far fewer people are driving but the demand which remains is from health care workers, essential services and others who would really benefit from that extra savings in pump prices."
He acknowledged that the ACT government has prioritised the health and safety of the ACT community during the COVID-19 pandemic and as a result, "fuel prices are not high on their agenda at the moment".
However, he said that the downward pressure on oil prices internationally could be expected to continue for some months to come because oil production and refining are processes which take a significant time to wind back.
The Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries and most of its major oil-producing allies, known as OPEC+, recently agreed to cut production by around 10 per cent, the single largest reduction in history.
But even this enormous wind-back won't prevent storage capacity worldwide topping out by mid-May. Around the world, economists and industry observers are perplexed as to what happens next.
"Producers are paying companies to store their oil and reports out of the US and Europe are that full tankers are already being slowed on their way to terminals or stood out to sea," Mr Khoury said.
"Internationally, the oil industry is in uncharted waters.
"What this means for the motorist is that the prices will stay low for some time to come. We want oil companies to pass on those price falls in full.
"Once the ACT government's primary focus is allowed to shift away from health care, then the NRMA will resume its pressure on getting an ACT fuel price watch system up and running."