The head of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has attacked petrol retailers and oil refiners, saying they are balancing on the “safe side of legality”.
At a business lunch yesterday, ACCC head Graeme Samuel says oil companies and retailers have engaged in “very sophisticated” information trading in the form of a computer-organised system that is updated with records of fuel prices charged in metropolitan areas, according to newspaper reports today.
This means, he says, “Coles, Woolworths, BP, Shell, Caltex and Mobil know at any point in the day, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, the price that each of their competitors are charging at each and every service station.
“It is as close to being illegally collusive as we can find, but it is not illegal – it is just on the safe side of legality.”
The scheme, called Informed Sources, is regularly updated and sends that information to its subscribers. Samuel says the system enables retailers to monitor their competition, and puts them in a “very comfortable oligopoly position”.
Samuel says he is also concerned about the control over import terminals by BP, Caltex, Mobil and Shell, which “gives them virtual total control over the sole sources of supply for petrol to all those that are engaged in the market”.
But Samuel says he defends the Government’s FuelWatch scheme, saying Informed Sources should be replaced by “something that is for the Australian consumer”.
The hit comes as Resources Minister Martin Ferguson heads to Saudi Arabia to attend a meeting addressing the concern of higher oil prices, and the possibility of increased supply. Petrol prices have seen record highs, with today’s national average price of unleaded fuel reaching $1.65.