Treasurer Jim Chalmers has put petrol retailers on notice as the government prepares to hike petrol prices by 22 cents a litre at the end of September over “misleading or anti-competitive conduct”.
As motorists prepare for the reintroduction of the full fuel excise on September 29 after a six month reprieve, Dr Chalmers has warned the consumer watchdog the ACCC will “ramp up its activities”.
The warning confirms — as expected — that there will be no extension of the fuel tax relief that was introduced in March as prices soared to an all-time high of 216.5 cents a litre in Sydney and 212.5 cents in Melbourne.
“I’ve instructed the ACCC to step up their surveillance of fuel markets to help make sure Australian motorists get a fair deal at the bowser,’’ the Treasurer said.
“Refiners, importers, wholesalers and retailers should consider themselves on notice – the ACCC is keeping a very close eye on fuel prices across the country to make sure any increases are justifiable.”
The government’s 44 cent excise on fuel was halved in the last budget before the election, saving motorists 22 cents per litre of unleaded and diesel fuel.
The reduction in the excise saved motorists roughly $15 when filling a 60-litre tank of unleaded fuel.
At a cost of about $3 billion, cutting 22 cents in tax from every litre of petrol for six months was hailed as hip-pocket relief as voters headed to the polls.
“What we were seeking to do in the Budget was put a shield up for Australians against those higher world oil prices,” former Prime Minister Scott Morrison said in March.
“One of the hallmarks of our economic response in this pandemic is we’ve always designed it carefully.
“You don’t just spend money forever.”
But after signalling it would not be extended, Liberal leader Peter Dutton is now calling for the Labor government to do more to help Australians deal with rising costs including on fuel.
“Households are facing rising power bills and your plan to address this is in disarray,” Mr Dutton said last month.
“Will your government compound the pressure on household budgets by not extending the fuel excise relief? Why is Labor making a bad situation worse?”
Now that relief is coming to an end, the Treasurer said the consumer watchdog would be monitoring for evidence of misleading or anti-competitive conduct by fuel retailers and wholesalers.
The ACCC will also be “analysing the retail price data on a daily basis after the reinstatement of the full excise” and accessing more frequent, daily petrol and diesel retail price data in all capital cities and more than 190 regional locations.
Dr Chalmers has written to fuel companies, outlining the expectations in relation to passing on increases, including warning companies about misleading Australian consumers about the rationale for any price rises.
The consumer watchdog will also be charged with “stepping up communication with consumers about prices, including about the best times to buy in their location based on petrol price cycle information.”
“There should be no doubt that if there is evidence of misleading or anti-competitive conduct by fuel retailers, the ACCC will take action,’’ Dr Chalmers said.
In his letter, the Treasurer notes that “the ACCC will play a critical role in ensuring that market participants do not take advantage of the expiry of
the fuel excise reduction to penalise consumers.”
The ACCC is also scheduled to release its quarterly report on retail petrol, diesel and automotive LPG prices for the June 2022 quarter on Monday.
Meanwhile, Anthony Albanese’s post-election honeymoon is continuing, with support for the Coalition plunging to record lows.
In the wake of a fortnight of controversy over Scott Morrison’s secret ministerial power grab, the Coalition’s popular support continues to tumble.
An exclusive Newspoll conducted for The Australian reveals the Coalition’s primary vote has slumped by another two points to just 31 per cent.
The result reflects a five-point plunge since the May election result and is the lowest since 2008, after Kevin Rudd won the 2007 election.
Labor’s primary vote remains unchanged at 37 per cent, but the two-party preferred lead is now 57-43 when a fall in primary vote support for the Coalition is factored into the equation.
The Prime Minister’s lead as preferred prime minister has also lifted two points to 61 per cent compared to Peter Dutton on just 22 per cent.
Labor won the May election on a two-party preferred result of 52.1 per cent.