Prime minister said cutting fuel excise did little compared to soaring prices, but did not rule the measure out

Scott Morrison has left open the possibility of cutting petrol excise in the budget, as soaring fuel prices after the Russian invasion of Ukraine add to cost of living pressures.

On Sunday Morrison told Channel Nine that price fluctuations are greater than any potential savings from a cut to petrol excise, but did not rule out the populist measure – twice responding that “the budget is at the end of the month” when asked to do so.

Morrison has previously played down the prospect of fighting “temporary” fuel price hikes with a cut in excise tax.

Australia is struggling with rising cost of living, with inflation at 3.5% and wages that have not kept pace despite record low unemployment.

Petrol prices were already nudging $1.70 and $1.80, but the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the US decision to ban importation of Russian oil have sent prices soaring to up to $2.20 a litre.

The former Liberal prime minister John Howard cut petrol excise by 1.5 cents a litre in March 2001, a backflip often credited as the start of a political recovery that saw him re-elected that November.

Morrison has begun 2022 behind in the polls and is struggling to recapture political momentum despite attempting to frame the election around the economy and national security.

On Sunday Morrison confirmed petrol now cost $2.20, stating he had “checked that again this morning”, in contrast to his National Press Club appearance in February at which he failed to quote the cost in response to a question about the cost of living.

“I think Australians know that what’s happening with petrol prices at the moment is being caused by what’s happening with the war in Europe,” he told Channel Nine’s Today program.

“We’re working with other countries around the world at the moment in terms of releasing fuel reserves to try and alleviate the pressure on fuel prices.”

Morrison said the government had also lowered the cost of electricity through the domestic gas reservation mechanism.

Asked about cutting petrol excise, which is 44 cents a litre, Morrison replied that “the budget is coming up at the end of this month”.

“My point is that excise, where it is sat, is not going to change what the fluctuations are in price that is going to mean many times over any change made in excise.

“We’ve seen it going from $1.70 to $2.20. That’s gone above the total excise you pay on fuel per litre.

“So, what is driving full prices are things well beyond the shores of Australia.”

On Sunday the treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, warned Australians to brace for higher interest rates and committed that “we will not be increasing taxes in this budget”.

Frydenberg told the Sun Herald the market had been pricing in “higher interest rates in due course”.

“What I can say is because of our strong economic management, we take responsible decisions which provide better outcomes than you would see under the Labor party,” he reportedly said.

Labor has repeatedly attacked the government on the cost of living and fuel security but has so far not weighed in on whether excise should be cut.

On Wednesday the Labor leader, Anthony Albanese, said “the problem here is that the fuel prices had gone up well before any current issues”.

Asked about the $775 a year the average motorist pays in fuel excise, Albanese agreed that “certainly people need assistance”.

“We know that real wages fell by more than 1% in the last year,” he told 3AW Radio.

“And that’s something that, in our lifetimes, simply hasn’t happened. Living standards have consistently risen over a period of time. They’re not rising at the moment. We do need to take pressure off.”

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