Watchdog to investigate petrol rip off
THE national consumer watchdog will investigate the petrol price cycle to see if retailers are manipulating it to rip off motorists.
Australian Competition and Consumer Commission boss Rod Sims told a Senate Estimates hearing the body would carry out its first thorough examination of the regular fuel price fluctuations in more than a decade.
"That's going to be prioritised. We'll do that this year, definitely," he said.
The plan comes amid ACCC concerns over the gulf between wholesale prices and what drivers pay at the bowser.
The watchdog's latest quarterly fuel report, released last week, highlighted that margins were at a record high, with Brisbane the nation's worst city.
"Certainly, the profits of the petrol industry at the moment are looking pretty good," Mr Sims said.
The ACCC study is expected to investigate the causes of the cycle, its impact on motorists, and whether retailers use it to boost profits by extending it for as long as possible, and by raising prices quickly but lowering them much more slowly.
Mr Sims told the hearing "the price of fuel can go up 25 cents in a couple of days and then take weeks to come back down".
This was also a factor in the ACCC's decision to oppose BP's proposed takeover of more than 500 Woolworths servos.
"When you look at those price cycles in the cities, BP moves faster in the up part of the cycle and slower down compared to Woolworths," Mr Sims said.
Queensland Senator Chris Ketter, who questioned Mr Sims during the hearing, said: "I am glad to see the ACCC shares my concern, and that of many Queenslanders, about excessive profits flowing to petrol companies at the expense of consumers."
RACQ spokeswoman Renee Smith said the cycle was essentially "a creation'' of the service stations. However, the RACQ feared that without a cycle, servos would simply keep prices up all the time.
"It's really frustrating when there is a significant jump virtually overnight," she said. "It's a shock to the system."
Queensland Consumers Association spokesman Ian Jarratt said: "Consumers can't understand why there is a price cycle, and they are fed up.
"It just makes things more complicated for people, who just want simplicity, fairness and affordability."
The average price of unleaded in Brisbane yesterday was 146.8c/ltr, giving retailers a 23.1c/ltr margin.