Earlier this year, the NSW Parliament passed a new law requiring that all NSW fuel retailers instantaneously report fuel price changes to the NSW Government each and every time changes are made.

The new laws were foreshadowed by NSW Minister for Better Regulation (the Hon Victor Dominello MP) on 20 December 2015 as part of an announcement that sweeping changes would be made to the biofuels laws in NSW – which in turn appear to be solely driven by the NSW Government’s intent to give a leg up to the State’s monopoly biofuels producer (and major political donor).

The announcement was strongly supported by the NRMA who, despite repeated industry warnings that the new biofuels laws were likely to place upward pressure on fuel prices, has continued to provide the Government with strong political cover for the new biofuels laws.

This observation is even more interesting in the face of recent media last week. In this media, the NRMA advised that it would shortly launch a new fuel prices app for mobile phone users. The NRMA went on to state that their new fuel price app would provide fuel prices for every service station in the state – and that the accuracy of “their” price app would actually be “enforced” by the NSW Government.

Presumably, the NRMA is paying for this data from the Government but, if not, ACAPMA assumes that this data will be made available to other existing industry providers of fuel price information on the same basis.

To not do so, risks the State Government being involved in a wilful distortion of an active and competitive fuel price information market in NSW.

Despite the new laws representing a wasteful commitment of government funds – by committing expenditure in an area that duplicates information already provided by commercial fuel price applications like MotorMouth and Gas Buddy – NSW Labour has been strangely silent in supporting the FuelCheck initiative.

“It seems that the NSW Government has had to find a variety of obscure ways to secure political support for idiotic changes to the new biofuels laws – presumably because it too realises that these laws will not deliver any employment benefit or environmental benefit to the NSW community” said ACAPMA CEO Mark McKenzie.

“Curiously, the support of NRMA and NSW Labour for both the new Biofuels law and Fuel Check law has continued despite strong and constant warnings by our industry that these new laws are simply likely to increase fuel prices for motorists and destroy small fuel retail businesses (and associated employment) in regional NSW,” added Mark.

The new Fuel Check Regulation, in particular, poses an insidious but significant risk of increased average fuel prices in NSW in the future.

“The Government, the NSW Opposition and the NRMA all seem to think that this duplication of resources (and unnecessary expenditure of government funds) is warranted – that it will somehow place downward pressure on fuel prices”, said Mark.

“We believe that it may actually do the contrary by reducing the future incidence of fuel price discounting in the NSW retail fuels market, as a result of fuel retailers deciding that it is simply too hard to constantly change fuel prices as they have in the past”, said Mark.

“And the NSW Government, the Labour opposition and the NRMA can all be assured that we will be monitoring the operation and impact of these laws on our market over the next 12 to 18 months”, added Mark.

In the meantime, the requirement for price reporting is now law with legal requirements for fuel price reporting to come into effect from 10am next Tuesday (19th of July 2016) as per the following timeline:

  • Monday 18th July 2016: NSW Fair Trading will send an email to all service stations with their unique FuelCheck ID and instructions for completing the online registration process.
  • Tuesday 19th July 2016 to Wednesday 3rd August 2016: From 10am on 19 July 2016, all service stations are required to provide their fuel prices to FuelCheck with the initiative operating as an ‘introductory phase’ and allow NSW Fair Trading to monitor the information added into FuelCheck and test the validity of the supporting processes. During this introductory period, fuel prices will not be available to the general public.
  • Thursday 4th August: The introductory phase will conclude on 4 August 2016 and all price information entered into FuelCheck will be publically visible on fuelcheck.nsw.gov.au from this date.

Importantly, NSW motorists will be able to submit a complaint to Fair Trading NSW from 4 August 2016 if they observe that the price at the service station doesn’t match the price shown on their FuelCheck.

NSW Fair Trading has advised that if 10 or more complaints are received about an individual service station alleging inconsistencies between the prices published on FuelCheck and the actual prices at the pump, these service stations may be listed on the Fair Trading Complaints Register. (More information on this process can be found at Complaints Register page of our website).

As most retailers would be aware, good industry price practice dictates that there should be a lag between the notification of any price change on the fuel price board (and now the Fuel Check system) and the pumps – particularly when the pump price is being increased (i.e. this practice allows those customers that entered the site seeing the lower price to fill up at the price that was displayed when they pulled into the site).

“The need for the FuelCheck system to accommodate this lag has been a constant source of discussion with NSW Fair Trading for several months but, even at this late stage, remains largely unresolved”, said Mark.

“Nonetheless, fuel retailers are encouraged to continue with these practices – which specifically benefit the consumer – despite NSW Government calls for the changes to be made instantaneously as to not do so will create a public relations nightmare for our industry”, added Mark.

Any fuel retailer that ends up on the Fair Trading Complaints Register as a result of following these long-established and consumer beneficial practices should immediately make contact with the ACAPMA Secretariat on 1300 160 270 or via email at communications@acapma.com.au.

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