The ACT government is resisting calls to introduce a scheme that provides regular information on the movement of petrol prices, instead encouraging motorists to use independent websites that track prices.
The Independent Competition and Regulatory Commission recommended in 2001 after an inquiry into fuel prices that the government implement a public information system to provide that information, but the government never acted on the recommendation.
Debate about such a scheme reignited last week as the National Roads and Motorists’ Association renewed calls for the territory government to follow NSW and Queensland by introducing real-time petrol price monitoring.
Other jurisdictions also have systems in place to promote competition and transparency, with Western Australia’s FuelWatch scheme requiring service stations to set prices for the following day each afternoon. The prices are then locked in for 24 hours.
The latest calls for real-time price monitoring came after a Sunday Canberra Times data analysis found the average price of unleaded petrol dropped just 15.8¢ per litre in the capital during a 60-day period between October and December. At the same time, the price fell at least 26.3¢ per litre in every other mainland capital city in Australia, dropping as much as 52.1¢ per litre in Adelaide.
But the ACT government believes there is little benefit in introducing a system like real-time price monitoring because a number of free websites already perform a similar function.
“Petrol price information is available to consumers from sources such as MotorMouth’s software app and websites such as actfuelwatch.com.au and petrolspy.com.au,” a government spokeswoman said.
“We encourage the community to vote with their feet – or car – before deciding which petrol stations to attend.
“Areas where there are a range of options – such as near the airport or Fyshwick – can be a good option to fill up the car with generally more competitive prices.”
The spokeswoman said the government had welcomed the increase in competition around those areas that had followed the opening of Costco’s service station at Majura Park and Metro Petroleum in Fyshwick.
She said while the ACT government understood that the cost of petrol was significant for Canberrans, authorities could not control many of the factors that influenced prices.
“Fuel prices can be impacted by a number of factors in Canberra [including] changes in international benchmark prices, changes in the value of the Australian dollar, levels of competition in different areas and pricing decisions by petrol retailers.
“The ACT does not have the ability to influence most of these determining factors.”
The spokeswoman said the ACT government was in regular contact with the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission about the higher price differentials between Canberra and other capital cities.
The commission’s latest quarterly petrol prices report found that the gap between prices in Australia’s five largest cities and the three smaller capitals of Canberra, Hobart and Darwin increased in the quarter to September 2018. The gulf widened from 7.3¢ per litre to 9.8¢ per litre.
The commission said the disparity was likely because of the same factors that influenced prices in regional areas, including a lower level of competition, lower volumes of fuel being sold and lower convenience store sales than in the larger cities.
While real-time price monitoring is not in the ACT government’s plans, service stations will soon be banned from displaying discounted prices on fuel boards.
Consumer Affairs Minister Shane Rattenbury said in November that he was concerned that “confusing” signs had resulted in motorists paying more at the bowser than they expected.
“Consumers should not be lured into petrol stations by cheap prices which are conditional on having a docket or in-store purchase and have the right to know exactly how much they are going to pay at the pump,” he said.