Chief Minister Andrew Barr is claiming victory over the fuel price gougers, citing new data showing Canberra has the lowest average petrol price in Australia.
According to the Australian Institute of Petroleum (AIP) Weekly Price report, the weekly unleaded average for the week ending 17 May for the ACT was 101.6 cents per litre.
This was cheaper than all major cities across the country, including Sydney which on average was 12 cents a litre higher.
Late last month Mr Barr threatened retailers with the big stick of legislating to enforce a retail margin if prices did not fall in line with other markets and the wholesale level. It came in an environment of falling demand due to the COVID-19 shutdown and record low crude oil prices.
The Chief Minister has the power to determine the maximum wholesale price, retail price and retail margin of fuel on the recommendation of the fair trading commissioner.
Mr Barr wrote to every major petrol retailer in Canberra demanding an explanation as to why prices had dropped in other major metropolitan cities such as Sydney but not across the ACT.
He gave them until Sunday, 3 May to lower prices or be compelled to lower them.
Prices across the major outlets began falling and Mr Barr has not had to resort to that big stick.
Mr Barr said on Monday (18 May) that the average price result was a milestone for Canberra, ”a claim we never expected we’d be making”.
”Canberra motorists often pay higher prices than motorists in other major cities, and it will be a welcome relief to many local families that the price of petrol in the ACT is as low as possible during this difficult period,” he said.
“The ACT Government will continue challenging local petrol stations to keep their prices at or below the Australian national weekly average.”
Mr Barr also wrote to ACCC Chair Rod Sims requesting that the consumer watchdog investigate petrol prices in the ACT.
“Despite crude oil prices falling to near record lows, and wholesale prices reducing substantially as a result over the last few months, we are not seeing similar outcomes for retail fuel prices in the Territory,” Mr Barr wrote.
“At a time when the economy is being severely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and many households are struggling due to job losses and restrictions placed on the community, this outcome is not acceptable.
“Any action taken by the ACCC would help increase pressure on retailers operating in the ACT market to do the right thing and reduce retail prices to a level more commensurate with broader market trends.”
Mr Barr has endured criticism from motorist bodies and the Opposition for not taking measures to dampen fuel prices, including real-time petrol price monitoring, improving business competition, and reducing taxes and charges for operators.
According to the Canberra Liberals, Canberrans pay an average of $450 more for fuel per year than households in NSW.
In February, the government announced a suite of measures to increase competition in the Territory petrol market and ease motorists’ pain at the bowser.
These included plans to establish a petrol price watchdog, attracting more independent operators and potentially extending the FuelCheck price monitoring scheme from NSW.
The government also reached out to independent retailers, saying it will assist them to identify potential sites in the ACT to build new service stations.