The Northern Territory (NT) Government plans to introduce new laws requiring all NT fuel retail businesses to regularly provide fuel price data to the Territory Government. It is understood that this data will then be made available to NT motorists in partnership with other stakeholders, such as the Automobile Association of the Northern Territory (AANT).

In a discussion paper released late last week, the NT Government announced that the legislation was being pursued in response to the findings of the ACCC’s 2015 Darwin Petrol Market Study which included recommendations for increased fuel price transparency.

“Fuel price transparency is a good thing and is a necessary requirement of any fuel market that is allowed to operate without government regulation of fuel prices”, said ACAPMA CEO Mark Mckenzie.

“It is disappointing, however, to see yet another Australian government introducing compulsory laws on petrol price reporting when there are already several sources of petrol price information available to the general public at no charge”, said Mark.

A new fuel price information service was launched by Gasbuddy early last year. Informed Sources also released a comprehensive revamp of its product in mid-2016. Both businesses have reported solid growth in national usage since release.

In addition, 7-Eleven released a fuel price application that allows consumers to lock in petrol prices during 2016 and this application is also understood to be well patronised.

“Our understanding is that the usage of each of these commercial applications on their own, far exceeds the number of users registered with NSW FuelCheck”, said Mark.

“You really have to wonder whether spending scarce taxpayer funds on fuel price information services makes sense when these services are already provided by the industry at no charge to consumers – the majority of which have been released since the 2015 Darwin Petrol Market study”, said Mark.

Nevertheless, the NT Government has made a decision to introduce these new laws and ACAPMA will work cooperatively with the process to ensure achievement of the NT Government’s objectives at a minimum cost to industry and the community at large.

A framework for the new laws was outlined in a three-page consultation paper that was released by the Northern Territory Department of Treasury and Finance last week. The paper states that the proposed laws – called MyFuel NT – will likely require fuel retailers to:

  • register with MyFuel NT and provide contact and identifying information (such as ABN, branding information, phone numbers and email addresses);
  • report the price of retail fuel sold for each type of fuel, without discount;
  • ensure that prices reported to MyFuel NT match the advertised price (across retail fuel price display boards, bowser and at the register prior to discount being applied); and
  • only advertise the standard price (the price available to all consumers) of fuel sold at the site on price display boards, however discount advertisement will still be permitted.

The new laws are scheduled to commence on 1 November 2017 and will be identical to the NSW Fuel Check Legislation. These laws require fuel retailers to advise the government each and every time a change is made to fuel prices on the forecourt, via an electronic reporting system.

“Our hope is that, different to NSW, the NT Government actually speaks with the commercial providers of fuel price information to see if there is a genuine opportunity to work cooperatively with these providers for the future sourcing of fuel price data”, said Mark

Ensuring consistency with the NSW approach is one thing, but NSW FuelCheck has proven problematic as a result of: (a) insufficient industry consultation leading to poor design, (b) rushed implementation, and (c) inadequate and inconsistent enforcement.

The result is that there are a significant proportion of sites that remain unlisted in FuelCheck. Inconsistent enforcement of the new laws also appears to be creating a distortion in market competition.

“It is one thing to introduce new laws such as these, but if they are not accompanied by a significant investment in implementation and enforcement then they create more problems than they solve”, said Mark

“And that is certainly the case for the NSW FuelCheck initiative”, he said

The NT Legislation differs from the NSW legislation in that it will also include new laws governing the operation of fuel price boards. It is understood that these regulations will be modelled along similar lines to the regulations operating in South Australia and Victoria.

ACAPMA is preparing a submission to the consultation paper, with submissions required by 3 February 2017.

“Our submission will be making the point that our industry is not opposed to increased fuel price transparency, but that the NT Government should make all reasonable efforts to ensure that the design of the new laws minimise the costs to fuel retailers – and hence the risk of increased fuel prices for NT motorists”, said Mark.

It is unfortunate that the majority of Australian State and Territory Governments do not appear to understand that our industry is a commercial industry and hence the compliance costs imposed by new regulations, ultimately flow through to our customers in the same way as any other industry.

“While governments regularly criticise our industry for high fuel prices on the one hand, they are regularly introducing new legislation on our industry that actually increases fuel prices for motorists – and they are being aided and abetted by motoring bodies who claim to be representing the interests of motorists”, said Mark.

“It is essential that  Australian governments only pursue legislation that is absolutely necessary, that does not duplicate services already provided and that minimises compliance costs for fuel businesses as far as practical”, said Mark.

Any member that would like to provide input to ACAPMA’s submission should contact ACAPMA on 1300 160 270 or send an email to communications@acapma.com.au.

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