Karen Collier, 15 December 2015

MOTORISTS could be forced to pay more for petrol to cover the cost of suggested fuel price board changes, supermarket giant Coles has warned.

The retail kingpin has attacked a proposal to banish discount prices from displays outside Victorian petrol stations.

The Herald Sun last month revealed the State Government was considering the option, already in place in South Australia and NSW, amid concerns some motorists without shopper dockets were confused about charges.

But Coles’ government and industry relations manager Vicki Bon said it could not find a single complaint on file from a confused customer in the 12 years it had offered discounted fuel.

Altering more than 200 price boards at Victorian Coles Express outlets would cost more than $1 million.

“This cost may have to be passed on to motorists in the form of increased fuel prices,” Ms Bon wrote in a submission to the Government.

The stoush comes as an Australian Competition and Consumer Commission report revealed gross retail petrol margins blew out to a record in the September quarter, averaging 11.8 cents per litre for major capital cities.

Sydney and Brisbane had the biggest bowser versus wholesale price gap of about 14c a litre, compared with Melbourne’s 8.3c.

“We will be closely monitoring gross retail margins in the coming months, because high retail margins likely indicate increased profits of the petrol companies at the expense of motorists,” ACCC chairman Rod Sims said.

The Victorian Automobile Chamber of Commerce — which represents independent fuel retailers and proposed the price board overhaul — said Coles’ objection to potential new laws and threat of higher prices was “laughable”.

“We would refute that the cost to change boards is that high, and even if it is, to suggest Coles can’t afford to absorb that is laughable and unfair to consumers,” executive director Geoff Gwilym said.

Coles sells about $2 billion worth of fuel and convenience store items in Victoria annually.

It said the Government should consider footing the industry bill for changed signs if discounted fuel advertising on boards was banned.

Evidence of complaints and disadvantage from existing fuel boards should be supplied to justify regulation, it said.

Consumer Affairs Minister Jane Garrett’s spokeswoman Holly Little said the Government was “consulting widely with industry and considering options”.

Extracted in full from the Herald Sun.