Chief Minister Andrew Barr is hoping two separate inquiries into high fuel prices in the ACT will pressure retailers into cutting the cost of filling up, but has not ruled out legislative action if that fails.
Mr Barr is keen for retailers to justify their prices to ACT motorists, saying if some can sell fuel at 20-25 cents a litre less than the dominant price in the Territory why can’t others.
He also flagged that there may be recommendations to the National Capital Authority, which controls planning on the main roads in to Canberra, about the siting of service stations in more accessible places.
All parties in the ACT agree that Canberra motorists are being gouged by the big operators, which are charging on average, seven cents a litre higher than the other five major capital cities.
Mr Barr said that with the competition watchdog refusing to examine the Canberra market, the Government would establish a Select Committee of the Legislative Assembly to inquire into how fuel prices are determined in the ACT, the impact of rising fuel prices on Canberra drivers, and regulatory and legislative solutions that could have a real effect on fuel prices.
The Government had also tasked the Independent Competition and Regulatory Commission (ICRC) to conduct a factual analysis of fuel price factors and market competition in parallel to the Committee Inquiry.
“The Government has written to the ACCC, and I have personally met with the Chairman, to implore him to use that body’s investigative powers to undertake a deep dive analysis on why the market is failing in the ACT. Despite these unexplained and unjustified price differences, the ACCC has refused this request,” Mr Barr said.
“The Government is seeking a greater understanding of the market issues that are leading to higher fuel prices in the ACT, and what measures could be put in place to force more competitive pricing.”
Mr Barr said representatives from fuel providers were likely to be asked to give evidence during public hearings of the select committee, which will provide their final report to the Assembly in June 2019.
He said the ICRC analysis was expected to take a similar timeframe to complete, ‘allowing the Government to consider both reports in developing a response that will actually make a difference for Canberra drivers’.
The Canberra Liberals have argued for real-time pricing based on the NSW Government’s FuelCheck monitoring system, but the Government has resisted this, saying there were already ways for motorists to find the best-priced fuel in the ACT such as MotorMouth’s software app and websites such as actfuelwatch.com.au and petrolspy.com.au.
Meanwhile, the Government is urging motorists to fill up at well-known cheaper sites at the Airport and Fyshwick.
The announcement of the dual inquiries comes as the Government bans service stations from displaying discounted prices on fuel boards because it believes they can be misleading.