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Petrol retailers collude


PetrolPetrol retailers across Melbourne colluded on bowser prices by using a third party service that allowed near real time sharing of pricing information, the competition watchdog says.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) says five major petrol retailers; BP, Caltex and the fuel selling arms of Coles, Woolworths and 7-Eleven, acted in a way that could drive up petrol prices.

A case launched in the Federal Court on Wednesday says the way the retailers used a statistics gathering service, run by the company Informed Sources, was a breach of Australian competition law.

“The ACCC alleges that petrol retailers that subscribe to the Informed Sources service use (it) to exchange information on the price they each offer at their petrol stations on a private, and near real time, basis,” ACCC chairman Rod Sims said in a statement.

“The exchange of this information allows retailers to monitor and respond to each others prices and observe and analyse the pricing behaviours and strategies of their competitors.”

The service requires retailers to input their bowser prices and, in return, they receive the same information from their rivals.

The ACCC says this allowed not only rapid price matching, but retailers could use the system to “propose a price increase to their competitors and monitor the response to it”.

A net petrol price increase of one cent per litre over a year represented a loss to Australian consumers of around $190 million, the ACCC noted.

Caltex has rejected the assertion of its use of Informed Services’ Oil Price Watch (OPW) service was a breach of competition law, and says it will defend the ACCC action.

“The OPW data consists of pricing information that is otherwise publicly available to everyone on petrol price boards,” it said in a statement.

“The OPW service simply makes it cheaper for subscribers to collect this data.”

Informed Sources also says it will defend the action, noting an earlier ACCC examination found no illegality and the competition watchdog was a former user of its pricing data.

“Until recently the ACCC has remained a client of Informed Sources and renewed its contractual arrangements twice during the investigation,” the company said in a statement.

“During this time, the ACCC has received – twice a day, every day – the kind of pricing data that it is now seeking to stop.”


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