Competition Watchdog Takes Fuel Big Boys To Court Over Alleged Price Fixing

Photo: Scott Barbour/Getty

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission is taking seven of Australia’s biggest petrol retailers, including Coles Express, Woolworths, BP and Caltex to court alleging that they are misusing a price monitoring system, contravening section 45 of the Competition and Consumer Act.

The competition watchdog has launched Federal Court of Australia proceedings against Informed Sources (Australia) Pty Ltd, the price monitoring company, which provides near real-time petrol prices, as well as its subscribers, alleging that the system allowed retailers to communicate with each other about prices, which reduced competition in the Melbourne market.

Informed Sources covers most Australian capital cities and many regional centres. It allows retailers to monitor and respond to each other’s prices and observe and analyse a competitor’s pricing behaviours and strategies.

ACCC Chairman Rod Sims said the action follows a long investigation into price information sharing arrangements in the retail petrol industry, but stopped short of saying that his organisation has any evidence of collusion.

“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,” 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.”

It follows on from the ACCC’s action on petrol shopper docket discounts offered by Coles and Woolworths.

This latest case is listed for hearing in Melbourne on 26 September, 2014.

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