The Australian Competition & Consumer Commission (ACCC) has launched a formal investigation into whether petrol stations could be ripping off consumers by sharing information on fuel prices.
The ACCC is concerned the current petrol price sharing arrangements, which “allow for the private and very frequent exchange of comprehensive price information between the major petrol retailers” may breach the Competition and Consumer Act 2010.
It is believed the online service Informed Sources will be central to the ACCC’s investigation. The website offers a proprietary system that allows petrol stations to share and compare real-time retail fuel prices across local areas, broader regions, and from state to state.
ACCC commissioner Joe Dimasi explained the current system allows petrol retailers to quickly signal price movements, monitor competitors’ responses and react to them, potentially lessening price competition to the detriment of consumers.
“The ACCC has put the industry on notice for some time about its concerns in this area,” Dimasi said.
The provisions in the Act forbid contracts or understandings that have the potential to substantially lessen competition.
ACCC chairman Rod Sims said a dedicated team has been assigned to the investigation.
“While the ACCC does not usually comment on its current investigations, the ACCC considered it appropriate to inform the public that it is undertaking this investigation given the significant public interest regarding petrol pricing,” Sims said.
The ACCC says it anticipates the investigation will take “some time” to complete, and expects the process to involve extensive evidence gathering followed by legal and economic analysis.
The announcement of the investigation comes as national average unleaded fuel prices hit 152.2 cents per litre last week, the highest level since September 2008.