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ACCC forces petrol prices into the open

Pump pressure: Fuel retailers have been forced to be more open with price adjustments, in an agreement that could push down the cost of filling up.

Data provider settlement prevents secret pricing exchanges among petrol retailers

24 Dec 2015

PREVIOUSLY restricted petrol pricing information held by the big six petrol retailers will now be made public under a settlement reached with the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission in the Federal Court.

The settlement involved BP, Woolworths, Caltex, 7-Eleven and a price-collating and distribution company named Informed Sources Pty Ltd.

Under the agreement, third parties will be able to gain access to the pricing data that retailers use “on reasonable commercial terms,” but will also be made available free to motorists.

The Australian Automobile Association, the peak body for state motoring clubs, welcomed the decision today, saying consumers will directly benefit.

“This looks to be an excellent outcome for road users who should finally now find themselves on a level playing field with the retailers when trying to choose when and where to fill up,” said AAA chief executive Michael Bradley.

“As a leading advocate for Australia’s motoring clubs and their 7.5 million members, the AAA strongly supports activities that ensure consumers are protected against uncompetitive behavior within the fuel industry.”

The settlement ended a case brought by the ACCC against the four companies and Informed Sources, which received pricing data from each of the fuel retailers and made it available to all petrol retailers.

The Informed Sources service covers most of Australia and allows subscribers – presently only the petrol retailers – to know exactly which prices have moved and by how much.

The ACCC alleged that, while not the same as collusion, where parties agree to raise prices in future, the access to pricing every 15 minutes allowed the retailers to signal their intentions to each other, ACCC chairman Rod Sims said at the time the case was launched in 2014.

“It is alleged that retailers can propose a price increase to their competitors and monitor the response to it,” he said.

“If, for example, the response is not sufficient, they can quickly withdraw the proposal and may punish competitors that have not accepted the proposed increased price.”

The case was launched under Section 45 of the Competition and Consumer Act, which prohibits contracts and arrangements that have the effect or likely effect of reducing competition.

Under the settlement reached today, Informed Sources and the four retailers in the case have effectively agreed not to deal in secret information, and will not enter any price information exchange scheme unless the information is available to the public.

Similarly, Informed Sources has agreed it will not supply the information exchange service unless the pricing data it provides to the retailers is also provided to consumers for free.

The data must also be available to third parties on reasonable commercial terms if they want to provide a petrol pricing service for instance, through a smartphone application or direct to a motorist’s dashboard.

Coles Express was initially included in the Federal Court case but earlier this week accepted a court-enforceable undertaking to terminate its contract with Informed Sources. It also agreed it would not engage in a price information exchange scheme for five years.

The other major petrol retailer, Mobil, accepted a similar deal in August 2014.

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