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A Talking Point published in the Mercury Newspaper 16 May 2020.

Governments let Tasmanians be ripped off year after year, says Andrew Wilkie.

In the last couple of months you’ve probably noticed it’s costing less to fill up at the petrol station. But it should be cheaper, much cheaper. The truth is, that despite the crash in world oil prices, Tasmanians continue to be ripped off at the bowser and the federal and state governments are standing idly by doing bugger-all about it. Frankly it looks like a protection racket for the oil companies.

Tasmanians routinely pay more for fuel than mainland motorists. Indeed, as I write this, the price of petrol in Hobart is 30 cents a litre more than in Melbourne, and the RACT has done the maths and found Tasmanians paid almost $13 million in excess fuel costs since March.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, which monitors prices, has put this difference down to higher transport and operational costs, limited competition and higher retail margins in Tasmania. The crux of the problem is the last point. The big retailers in Hobart are pocketing reductions in the wholesale price and the consumer is the loser. And the ACCC is powerless to do anything but watch.

You can see this in Hobart where motorists generally pay between $1.20 and $1.40 for a litre of petrol. But head out of town down to Dunalley and you can buy the same fuel for under $1.00. I also hear motorists in Sandfly are enjoying much cheaper prices right now. Same petrol, same transport and operational costs as the big retailers in Hobart, but a massive difference in price that can only be explained by the sellers in the city making a windfall from the plunge in world oil prices. The situation with diesel and LPG is no better. It’s not the small independent resellers at fault here, but the big retailers and oil companies.

Yes the ACCC has looked at this before and will look at it again. But that’s meaningless so long as the Commission is a powerless bystander. For years I have campaigned for the Federal Government to give the ACCC the power to intervene and rein in the fuel industry, which is treating motorists in Hobart like mugs. This week I took this issue to Question Time in the Federal Parliament and demanded the Prime Minister fix this.

The Government’s response? Scott Morrison handballed the issue to Treasurer Josh Frydenberg who said petrol prices in Tasmania were typically 15 cents higher than the national average and that the ACCC had been asked to keep monitoring prices for another three years. In other words, get used to it Hobart. The Treasurer also encouraged Australians to shop around for the best possible deal. Is he really so out of touch that he expects people in Hobart to drive to Dunalley to fill up?

The response was misleading, condescending and another deep betrayal of Tasmania and Tasmanians. The Federal Government knows that higher costs and little competition don’t explain why Tasmanians are paying so much more for their fuel. It also knows that recent price reductions in Tasmania have nothing to do with the ACCC and everything to do with the global crash in oil prices. To suggest otherwise is to treat consumers like mugs.

Nor does the Tasmanian Government have clean hands here, because it’s also done very little while motorists pay too much for fuel. Other state governments have introduced mandatory fuel-reporting laws, but so far the State Government has resisted calls to give motorists the tool to easily locate the cheapest prices.

Most Tasmanians are obviously already doing it tough due to the COVID-19 pandemic. And most people are dependent on cars because of poor public transport. We can’t afford to be fleeced by the big oil companies due to government inaction on fuel prices. It’s time governments got into gear and did something.