Canberra motorists emerging from lockdown and starting to use their cars more regularly for the first time in months can expect a big hit to the household budget after petrol prices this week reached their highest-ever national average price.
The latest data from the Australian National Institute of Petroleum shows the average national capital price of petrol at $1.60 per litre, with Canberra's average slightly above that.
The highest previous recorded national average retail price was 148.8 cents per litre in 2014.
Singapore Mogas, Australia's international benchmark price, closed trading this week at just below $US100 per barrel.
The NRMA says diesel prices are expected to follow sharply upward, with Singapore gasoil prices climbing to $US98 a barrel. This is a direct result of shortages of natural gas ahead of the approaching northern hemisphere winter forcing up prices and flipping users across more readily available diesel.
Just 20 months ago, ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr warned of imposing a cap on petrol prices on Canberra as prices reached 113 cents a litre.
That price now seems like a bargain, although his warning at the time on regulatory intervention was driven primarily by a disparity between Sydney and Canberra prices, then approaching 20 cents a litre. That issue has eased, replaced by a global market-driven one.
The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and its allies, a grouping known as OPEC+ and led by Russia and Saudi Arabia, tightened supply when the pandemic first hit and prices plummeted. At a meeting in early October, the cartel agreed to increase production marginally by 400,000 barrels a day.
"That [increase in volume] will make little or no difference to the price; it simply won't be enough to move the needle," NRMA spokesperson Peter Khoury said.
Mr Khoury said that after repeated summers of droughts, bushfires and lockdowns, the domestic regional tourism sector - areas such as the NSW South Coast - was relying heavily on people taking driving holidays this summer but with high petrol prices, that prospect was looking grim.
"These record prices could not have come at a worse time - just as families are getting out and economic activity was meant to be ramping up," Mr Khoury said.
"We are now seriously concerned that there is little relief in sight and that is bad news for families and the economy.
"These prices are going to hurt family budgets."
Not unexpectedly, retail demand for petrol plunged dramatically during the lockdown period with the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission reporting that the 2020-21 financial year saw prices tumble as people parked their cars during the pandemic and worked from home.
In 2020-21, annual petrol sales volumes were around 11 per cent lower than in 2018-19, before the impact of COVID-19.
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In December last year, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg directed the ACCC to monitor the prices, costs and profits relating to the supply of petroleum products and produce a report every quarter however, these reports lag well behind the market dynamics.
A submission by the NRMA into the ACT Assembly's 2019 inquiry into fuel prices revealed operating costs and the margin cost component on Canberra retail prices were 4.7 cents per litre higher than Sydney. These operating costs included transport, but more significantly territory rents and taxes which service station owners say are prohibitive in the ACT compared with NSW.
It also found that operating costs and margins equate to 17.9 per cent of the average regular unleaded price in Canberra, compared with 15.1 per cent in the Sydney market.
Unlike other metro markets, there is also no price cycle operating in Canberra so customers cannot adjust their fuel-buying patterns to take advantage of when petrol is cheapest.
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