House debates

Wednesday, 1 October 2014


Solomon Electorate: Fuel Pricing

7:35 pm

Photo of Natasha GriggsNatasha Griggs (Solomon, Country Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise tonight to point to disparities in Northern Territory fuel pricing that have been causing considerable disquiet in my electorate of Solomon and, indeed, across the whole of the Northern Territory for many years now. It has been ratcheting up in intensity over the past few weeks.

Anybody who has fuelled up at a Territory service station knows it is an extremely expensive exercise. It has always been the case that fuel in Darwin is more expensive than in other capital city but in recent weeks the disparity appears to have taken on a life of its own. For example, last week in Adelaide and the Gold Coast the price of fuel was $1.35 a litre. In Perth it was $137.9.a litre. The pump price in Melbourne was around $1.46.9 a litre and in Sydney it was a cent higher. In Darwin on average a litre of fuel at the pump was a whopping $171.7 cents a litre, and much higher in remote areas. To put it bluntly, Territory motorists have had enough.

My colleagues in this House are very well aware of my concerns about fuel pricing and the disparity in prices in the Territory and the rest of Australia because I have been raising this with them since I came to this place. Former NT Chief Minister Shane Stone QC who heads up the Prime Minister's advisory group on developing North Australia, shares my concerns about fuel prices in the Northern Territory and he has agreed to place this on their agenda. When he was Chief Minister of the Northern Territory he had some success in reducing fuel pricing in the Northern Territory and I am sure that it can be done again.

There has been a raft of reports over the years that point to a range of issues such as a lack of competition, but none of those appear either logical or convincing, particularly because fuel is imported from Singapore and yet Darwin pays far more than any other capital city even though it is closer. In an attempt to resolve some of these issues, the Giles government has convened a fuel summit to be held in Darwin on 7 October. Chief Minister Giles has issued a 'please explain' to the petrol wholesalers about why fuel is so expensive in the Top End.

Against this backdrop of action by the Northern Territory government, there has emerged the sound of a squeaky little wheel in the form of the Northern Territory's Labor senator who is weighed into the debate—which, for the previous 12 months as an incumbent senator, she appeared to have no interest in. In a typical whingey-whiney fashion, the senator tried to drag the Commonwealth into this matter, calling for an independent review into competition policy to undertake hearings in Darwin. This is despite federal Labor having the best part of seven years to rectify issues of petrol pricing in the Territory and also that the federal member for Lingiari was also in the Labor cabinet. But the senator conveniently forgot that point. I should also say that, given how little time the senator actually spends in the Territory, I would have thought that the price of fuel in Canberra would have been more of a concern to her—but I digress.

In an effort to educate the senator, I will put on the record what the Commonwealth is doing to address fuel prices in the Territory and indeed the cost of living. The independent Harper review is charged with examining whether key markets, including automotive fuel, are competitive and whether changes to the scope of the Competition and Consumer Act and related laws are necessary. Members of the Harper panel came to Darwin in May this year—a forum where Senator Peris was conspicuous by her absence. A range of issues were mentioned at the May meeting, including high fuel prices as well as regulatory impediments to competition.

While the government welcomes the Labor senator's interest in the Harper review, it is regrettable that it comes some six months into the review and four months after the panel met with Territorians. Interested members of the community—and this includes the senator, who knows full well that you do not have to attend a public meeting to contribute to a review—are able to make submissions directly to the review and are invited to respond to the draft report by 17 November 2014.

In relation to the ACCC's fuel monitoring role, the Minister for Small Business, Bruce Billson, has acknowledged that a new direction is needed for the ACCC to monitor more regularly and to empower the ACCC to do a deep dive on areas of concern for motorists. At the moment the annual reporting gives you a great insight into what has happened over the last year. This regular, new reporting will actually give consumer groups, the government, and other interested parties more time to quickly—(Time expired)