THE push for an investigation into the fluctuating and disparate fuel pricing on the Mid North Coast has gained momentum with the Port Macquarie Chamber of Commerce weighing into the debate.
Pricing comparisons via the NSW Government’s Fuel Check website on the morning of December 5 showed the average price of 91 unleaded petrol across the state was 139.2 cents per litre.
By comparison, the average price by the three major distributors in Port Macquarie was 158.8 cents per litre, with four out of the six selling fuel at 159.9 cents per litre.
If you have a 60 litre tank, it cost an extra $12 to fill a car in Port Macquarie over the average state cost.
Port Macquarie Chamber of Commerce executive officer Mark Wilson contacted all major distributors for an explanation given the excessive costs borne not only by individual motorists but also by local business owners.
“Unfortunately none of the four major distributors were able to provide anything close to a reasonable explanation for the disparity in pricing,” Mr Wilson said.
“Two of the major distributors told me in general terms that localised costs of delivery, local site operational costs and local competition levels were all factors in localised pricing, but none were able or willing to offer me any particular reason that Port Macquarie’s pricing is so far above the state average.
“I can only consider that competition is lacking in the area. It does seem strange to me that on December 4, all six local stations were priced within two cents of each other, but the day after my phone calls one distributor has dropped their pricing by over five cents per litre.”
ACCC chair Rod Sims has previously stated that it's not against the law for consumers to be overcharged for goods, but motorists can work out the best time to buy fuel based on price fluctuations.
"When prices are at bottom of the cycle you're probably getting petrol below cost and when they're at the top of the cycle you're getting ripped off big time," he said.
"It just fluctuates in a way that irritates the hell out of motorists, but it's not against the law the way that's happening."
Mr Sims says 35 per cent of the cost of petrol is tax and Australians are paying a fuel excise of 41 cents on top of the GST.
The tax is meant to fund roads but he says it's questionable whether the taxation level is appropriate.
The ACCC says on its website that while it does not set fuel prices, it monitors and investigates areas where pricing is vastly inconsistent.
“Where we see issues of concern we will investigate. And, where we find sufficient evidence we will take action to protect consumers against misleading and anti-competitive conduct by fuel retailers.”
Mr Wilson has been in contact with the ACCC in regards to suggestions of price fixing and collaboration in the area.
The ACCC advised that the factors presented may suggest market gouging, rather than collusion, but is still considered unethical. The Chamber has submitted an official report to the ACCC and is awaiting advice.
Mr Wilson believes the major distributors are happy to reap comparatively huge margins from the town while no-one is taking any action.
“While the Chamber of Commerce is happy to do what they can, our best advice is for local businesses to support the few local independent fuel stations whose prices currently fall far closer to the state averages,” Mr Wilson said.
“Business owners are also encouraged to contact the distributors and the ACCC directly and voice their concerns, especially if the business operates a fuel card account arrangement with a particular supplier.”
In April this year, Member of for Cowper Luke Hartsuyker called on the ACCC to investigate excessive price hikes and inflated fuel pricing on the Mid North Coast.
He is yet to receive any feedback and has now demanded action, offering legislative support from the government if required.
“More inquiries are not the answer. The Commission has the authority to take action, or give advice to government on what it believes needs to be done,” Mr Hartsuyker said.
Motorists can compare daily petrol prices in Port Macquarie using the NSW government’s Fuel Check app.
Lodge your concerns with the ACCC
You can lodge a consumer report with the ACCC by phoning 1300 302 502 or clicking here.