EDITORIAL: Pricing discrepancies worth investigating

Inequity at the fuel bowser has long been a bugbear in regional areas.

It doesn’t matter how closely the market is monitored, how many inquiries are called for and even held or the amount of political pressure applied.

The simple fact of the matter is that doesn’t seem to matter how much noise is about it – what you fork out in the bush is often iniquitous compared with the situation in the big cities. And arguments put forward about the extra cost of transporting fuel to regional areas only account for part of the price story.

It might explain the price differential to a degree but clearly falls short when applied to the large gap in prices that often exists within areas like the Hepburn region. 

Certainly over the past few decades that difference often has been in the range of 10 cents a litre. This is a substantial gap that begs investigation. It may seem like little but it is easy to overlook the degree to which this can create disadvantage.

Public transport often borders on non-existent, farmers have large distances to traverse to get their produce to market and often there is not a doctor or a public hospital close by.

That means higher fuel prices are not just an initial hit to your wallet or purse. Rather, it can create disadvantage as it can be more difficult to maintain good health, can create barriers to fulfilling academic potential and can sharply reduce margins for our creators of wealth – our farmers, our innovative regional businesses.

The APCO chain has sharply criticised one element of the market that it strongly believes is an unnecessary impediment to genuine competition.

Directors Robert and Peter Anderson say the docket discount system used by the major supermarket chains in effect pushes up prices.

They have argued, in a submission to the Victorian government’s inquiry into regional fuel prices, that this marketing strategy provides an unfair advantage to their competitors.

As they say: “No matter what APCO’s price is on our board, no matter how low we drop our pump prices, we will never get the Coles/Woolies discount docket customer back, we can never win.”

This is not a new argument but it is one that needs to be given a serious look, otherwise it could be said that a genuine effort to remove inequities faced by regional motorists has not been made.