Rachel Afflick, 15 March 2016

AUSTRALIA’S consumer watchdog is under increasing pressure to investigate fuel prices in North Queensland.

The RACQ’s latest monthly report shows Townsville service stations increased their profit margins by 5.1 per cent in February.

The average price of fuel dropped 1.5 per cent to 118.2c a litre but it was still far higher than the 105.9c paid in Ayr and 109.2c in Brisbane.

RACQ spokeswoman Kirsty Clinton said she was concerned about price discrepencies in Townsville and Cairns and called for an Australian Competition and Consumer Commission investigation of the markets.

“We’d like a formal investigation to tell us why prices are as high as they are, and how we can get them down, especially when Ayr just down the road is significantly cheaper,” she said.

The ACCC has completed an investigation in Darwin, and has two more in progress in Launceston and Armidale, but says it doesn’t have the resources to take on every town.

However, price discrepancies across Queensland have seen outrage grow and pressure mount on the watchdog.

“They’ve got resource issues – we don’t think that’s good enough,” Ms Clinton said.

Shell Belgian Gardens was one of the cheapest places to fill up on unleaded in Townsville last week.

Owner of the family-owned business Soren Nannestad said oil prices had fluctuated slightly but his retail margin had not changed.

“I’ve been moving with it,” he said. “I’m trying to be fair.

“(The big companies) can probably get a better buying price. It’s funny how I can sell cheaper.”

When the cost of oil fell in August last year, Mr Nannestad noticed his prices were going down when other service stations weren’t. He started promoting it and customers travelled from around the city to fill up at his servo.

An ACCC spokesman said the commission was aware of the level of community ­concern about high petrol prices in regional Queensland.

He said the ACCC did not have the resources to undertake an individual investigation of every town but it was conducting three in-depth regional market studies each year. The locations for 2015 were Darwin, Launceston and Armidale and the locations for 2016 are yet to be announced.

Main Roads and Transport Minister Mark Bailey hosted a petrol price roundtable in Brisbane earlier this month. No commitments were made at the summit but Mr Bailey was also backing an ACCC probe in Queensland. “Although there had been comments attributed to the ACCC that they didn’t have the resources, I understand that the Federal Assistant Treasurer has now said that the commission does have significant resources and is equipped to act,” he said,

“If that’s the case, then I look forward to hearing from the Federal Government very soon that they’ve heeded the call from the Palaszczuk Government and approved the Queensland probe.

But FUELtrac general manager Geoff Trotter slammed the fuel summit as a “stunt” put on for “show” with companies dropping their prices as soon as they were advised of the date.

He said the summit resulted in no real benefits for regional motorists in Townsville.

Extracted in full from the Townsville Bulletin.