SERVICE station bosses have launched an extraordinary attack on the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, accusing it of encouraging anti-competitive behaviour and not understanding how the petrol market works.

“By any measure, the Australian fuel industry is doing a great job in ensuring that Australian households and businesses have access to some of the cheapest fuel in the developed world,” Australasian Convenience and Petroleum Marketers Association CEO Mark McKenzie said.

He said the ACCC was “fuelling nonsensical discussions about petrol prices’’ and confusing people over retailers’ margins and profit levels.

“The problem here is that our market is complex and, despite the ACCC having produced regular reports into our industry for more than 12 years, the level of understanding of the Australian petroleum market is arguably at its lowest ebb.”

Mr McKenzie slammed ACCC chairman for calling out Coles Express for high prices over the past quarter and encouraging motorists to boycott them in favour of lower-cost chains such as United, 7-Eleven and Woolworths.

“This is an extraordinary development,” he said.

“Some of the commentary of the national competition regulator appeared to be at odds with the very principles of Australian competition law.”

The ACCC had made a “serious but unsubstantiated assertion’’ about likely collusion in suggesting that other retailers had followed Coles Express in a high pricing policy. In fact, the chain’s sales dived because competitors had kept prices low to poach customers.

Reports by the national watchdog have repeatedly highlighted the gap between wholesale prices and what drivers are charged.

A major investigation last year blamed greedy service stations for Brisbane having the highest prices of any capital cities since 2009, saying average profits here were 55 per cent more than the rest of the country.

The latest quarterly report last week said the retail margins were the highest on record.

But Mr McKenzie said commentary around that marked “a new low”.

“Our industry simply cannot respond logically to assessments that are built on false assertions rather than fact.”

Service stations got only 8 per cent – $5.55 from the $67.50 it cost to fill a 50-litre vehicle tank at the average unleaded price of $1.35, he said.

The rest went in Federal Government taxes (42 per cent) and to the wholesaler (50 per cent).

Retailers have to cover wages, rent, security, cleaning, office and other costs out of that before making any profit.

An ACCC spokeswoman rejected the industry’s criticism.

“The ACCC provides motorists with practical advice in response to concerns around high petrol prices,” the spokeswoman said.

The watchdog said it had a “deep understanding” after examining the fuel market since 1996 and its reports specifically stated that gross retail margins should not be confused with retail profits.

Extracted from Herald Sun.