The Canberra Liberals say they will trial real-time monitoring of petrol prices to help bring down the price of fuel in the Territory, if they win Government next year.
Opposition Leader Alistair Coe said ACT motorists were being ripped off and accused the Government of refusing to do anything about it.
The NRMA agrees and has been calling for the ACT to replicate the NSW FuelCheck legislation introduced in 2016, which requires all service stations to post their prices in real time so they can be available to the public through the Government website and app, and the NRMA app.
But the ACT Government says there is no guarantee that such schemes have any impact on fuel prices and may, in fact, be counterproductive.
Mr Coe said Canberra was among the most expensive places in Australia to buy fuel, with the average price on Monday for unleaded petrol around 145.9c per litre compared to 125.2c per litre in NSW.
“In Belconnen it’s 146.4 per litre compared to 112.5 in Bowral – that’s 33 cents per litre more,” he said.
Mr Coe said that in 2001, the Independent Competition and Regulatory Commission had recommended the introduction of a public information system to monitor petrol prices, but Labor had repeatedly refused to take action.
He said he would also write to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission to request an investigation into Canberra’s petrol prices.
“We don’t believe it’s fair that Canberrans have to pay 20 to 30 cents more per litre than other Australians,” he said.
“That may mean Canberrans are paying about $20 more than the rest of the country to fill up the tank. We need to make petrol more affordable for all Canberrans.”
Mr Coe said real-time monitoring of fuel prices would improve transparency of the system and encourage healthy competition among retailers.
“Petrol retailers will be required to report changes to fuel prices by 6 am every morning. After fuel prices have been locked in, they will not be allowed to rise in a 24-hour period,” he said.
“Other jurisdictions that have introduced real-time price checking such as NSW or WA clearly have a more affordable fuel market.
“A real-time fuel watch will help make Canberra’s fuel market more stable, predictable and transparent. This is a simple step that could make a real difference in people’s lives.”
But Chief Minister Andrew Barr said petrol prices were already available on the Petrol Spy app and Canberrans would have to foot the bill for duplicating it with a Government-run fuelwatch scheme.
“We know from Petrol Spy that fuel is cheaper in Fyshwick, Pialligo and Majura Park. Motorists can save between 10c and 25c a litre at the Caltex, Metro and Costco service stations in those areas,” he said.
Mr Barr acknowledged that price gouging and market failures were hurting ACT motorists but the ACCC had warned that 24-hour notification rules could actually reduce competition because they meant a supplier who discovered their prices was a little higher than another nearby could not lower them for at least a day.
“This is a risk that would have to be addressed in any 24-hour price-fixing scheme operating in the ACT,” he said.
Mr Barr said he had written to the ACCC many times for it to review the ACT market and welcomed bipartisan support, calling on local MPs and Senators to also lobby the competition watchdog.
NRMA spokesperson Peter Khoury said crowdsourcing apps such as Petrol Spy were unreliable and not backed by law.
“Nothing is as comprehensive as the legislation introduced in NSW, and nothing is backed by law and potential fines if service stations aren’t posting the right prices,” he said.
Mr Khoury said the scheme had made a difference in NSW, with the gap between the wholesale and retail price of petrol closing by 2.5 cents a litre in Sydney compared with other capitals, and 1.5-2 cents in regional areas.
“Once you start to shine a light on the local market and add more transparency by forcing every service station to post their pricing in real time, you’re also encouraging competition,” he said.
And Canberra was in desperate need of competition, he said.
“Canberra is more expensive than regional town in NSW with a fraction of the population. And it’s been allowed to go on for too long,” Mr Khoury said.
“We can’t force people to open service stations, but what we do want to do is make the ones that are there work harder for our members’ money.”
“And we can do that by increasing transparency [and] putting the information in the hands of the public. Hopefully, that encourages more people who are going to look for choice, then that may encourage more people to enter the market.”
He said other states were following NSW’s lead, such as Queensland and South Australia.
“Why the ACT hasn’t done it is beyond me,” he said.