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Monday, 3 December 2018
Page: 12340


Mr CHRISTENSEN (Dawson) (13:15): I'm very pleased to support this motion from the member for Page, talking about the disparity between petrol prices between regional cities and capital, or metropolitan, cities and unfair market power by the major retailers. The cost of fuel is a significant portion of most Aussie family budgets, but in regional, rural and remote communities it's not only a higher cost; it is actually an unavoidable cost.

Regional families face a triple whammy when it comes to petrol. They don't have public transport options available to them like in the big cities; they're forced through sheer geography to drive more kilometres; and they have to pay more per litre of petrol than their city counterparts. The disparity between a litre of petrol in Brisbane and a litre of petrol in North Queensland is often enormous, I've got to tell you. I note, in particular, there has been major price discrimination in the past week—the last few weeks, actually—when capital city fuel prices are compared with regional prices. The disparity has come down to a few cents in the past week, but this gap should have actually closed by more and it should have closed sooner. You can't tell me that it's reasonable to have a price discrepancy of 30c or 40c for several weeks.

North Queenslanders have been fed a number of excuses as to why they have to pay more for fuel than their city cousins. We're variously told that it costs more to freight to regional centres; there is not much turnover of the commodity; costs are higher for country servos; or there's not as much competition. The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission produced a report on the Cairns petrol market which found that significantly higher prices were due to lower levels of competition, lower sales volumes, distance and locations factors, and lower convenience store sales. But it also noted that higher costs were due to higher profits. If higher profits are achieved in a market where there is insufficient competition, it smacks of more than just a lack of competition; it's price gouging.

The report notes that there is a lack of competition in Cairns. It also found that regional towns like Ayr in the Burdekin have lower prices despite the lack of competition. I had a long talk last week with the chair of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, Rod Sims. He acknowledged that the situation with regional fuel prices was peculiar and not easily explained. That's only if you try to explain the discrimination through input costs and economic factors. It could be explained, if you consider the possibility of less noble influences, by the misuse of market power, unconscionable conduct and the use of unfair contract terms by large supermarket chains. I believe it's time for the federal government to order an investigation into these supermarket chains and these big retailers—Woolworths, Coles and Aldi—and in particular their impact on the fuel market.

I support the member for Page on his motion that calls on the government to request the Governor-General to establish a royal commission into supermarket and petrol retailers. Such a commission should consider business practices, conduct and culture of organisations with regard to misuse of market power, unfair contract terms, pricing, unconscionable conduct and the like.

The market has been allowed to evolve in the hope that a free market will deliver the best outcome for all, but that actually has not proven to be the case. The best outcomes are being delivered to a select few in our nation and some ordinary outcomes are being delivered for families and for motorists outside of capital cities. For regional families, we are receiving the rough end of the pineapple every time we bend over to fill the tank.

I have formed a firm view that, if a company is going to sell a product for one price in Sydney, it should sell that product for the same price whether it be in Mackay, Townsville, Bowen, the Burdekin, the Whitsundays or any community around the nation. At the very least, it should be the same price with a reasonable extra charge for freight.

We already have such a system in place for electricity, although North Queensland business customers still cop the pineapple from the Queensland Labor government, but for residential premises it's the same price right across the state. We have the same system for telecommunicates packages: phones, mobile costs, data. If a supermarket can sell milk for the same price everywhere, it can sell petrol for the same price everywhere, too.

The fuel industry has had more than ample opportunity to clean up its act. The time has passed for fair play on a voluntary basis—or whatever sort of self-regulated codes they're going to come up with. So I've got to say that I join the member for Page and other members of the Nationals and others in this Chamber to urge our government to intervene to ensure that regional, rural and remote families are not treated like second-class citizens just because they don't live two minutes from a tram stop in Melbourne.