Australian petrol giants are being accused of fuel price sharing.
Australian petrol giants are being accused of fuel price sharing. Trevor Veale

ACCC takes court action against petrol giants price sharing

PETROL giants are being accused of fuel price sharing by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) and have initiated Federal Court proceedings. 

Among those accused are BP Australia, Caltex Australia, Coles Express, Woolworths and 7-Eleven Stores.

The ACCC alleges that the information sharing arrangements between Informed Sources and the petrol retailers, through its petrol prices website, "allows those retailers to communicate with each other about their prices, and that these arrangements had the effect or likely effect of substantially lessening competition in markets for the sale of petrol in Melbourne".

"The ACCC alleges that the arrangements were likely to increase retail petrol price coordination and cooperation, and were likely to decrease competitive rivalry," ACCC chairman Rod Sims said.

"Given the importance of price competition in petrol retailing, the ACCC is concerned that consumers may be paying more for petrol as a result.

"The ACCC alleges that fuel retailers can use, and have used, the Informed Sources service as a near real time communication device in relation to petrol pricing. In particular, it is alleged that retailers can propose a price increase to their competitors and monitor the response to it. 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 ACCC alleges that petrol retailers that subscribe to the Informed Sources service use the service to exchange information on the price they each offer at their petrol stations on a private and near real-time basis.

The exchange of this information allows retailers to monitor and respond to each other's prices and observe and analyse the pricing behaviours and strategies of their competitors.

The Informed Sources service covers most capital cities and many regional centres across Australia.

A hearing has been set down in Melbourne on September 26, 2014.

Peak national motoring body, the Australian Automobile Association (AAA), supports the court action taken by the consumer watchdog in relation to price sharing.

"Motorists strongly support the legal action taken by the ACCC," AAA chief executive Andrew McKellar said.

"The allegations of coordinated price sharing amongst fuel retailers are deeply concerning and should be examined thoroughly.

"Going forward, it is essential that motorists have access to current or real-time fuel price information so they can make informed choices about where and when to fill up."

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