01.Petrol retailers in court
The ACCC is taking several petrol retailers and Informed Sources, a company which allows them to share price information in a timely manner, to court for alleged breaches of s45 the Competition and Consumer Act 2010.
Five petrol retailers – BP, Caltex, Eureka Operations (known as Coles Express), Woolworths and 7-Eleven – are under fire for the way they share and receive petrol price information from Informed Sources. The ACCC is alleging that the service allows retailers to communicate with each other almost in real time about their prices, and that it had the effect or likely effect of lessening competition in petrol sales in Melbourne.
Subscribers to Informed Sources provide pricing data to the service at regular intervals and then receive collated data from other subscribers. It's alleged that a retailer can propose a price increase to its competitors and then monitor the response. If there isn't enough response to the proposed price increase, the retailer can then quickly remove the proposed price increase and punish competitors that didn't respond, said ACCC chairman Rod Sims.
Increased prices for consumers?
"Given the importance of price competition in petrol retailing, the ACCC is concerned that consumers may be paying more for petrol as a result," said Mr Sims.
CHOICE's recent Consumer Pulse survey found that fuel is the second-highest cost-of-living concern for Australian households.
While the ACCC hasn't quantified the actual effect of the information sharing, it says that even a small increase in petrol pricing can have a significant impact on consumers overall. The ACCC says that if net petrol prices increased 1c per litre over a year, the total cost to consumers would be around $190m.
Informed Services has responded to the proceedings saying that the legal action is "unjustified" and says it only uses "historical and publicly available price board/pump data". It says it has "strict rules of service that prohibit anyone putting future prices into the system".
This is the second time the ACCC has taken action on fuel pricing this year, with legal action taken earlier this year against Coles and Woolworths over shopper docket discounts. The ACCC was concerned that when shopper dockets exceeded 4c per litre that the underlying price of petrol rose.