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Speech: Fair Trading (Fuel Pricing Information) Amendment Bill 2020

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS (17:36): I rise to speak in support of the government's fuel pricing information bill, and to outline why the Greens are supporting a FuelCheck model.

The RAA has called for the government's bill to be implemented in South Australia as a priority; indeed, they wrote to us last sitting week, and we could have debated this matter and finalised it on the sitting Thursday. On the sitting Wednesday, when we debated the private member's bill, there were guarantees given at the time that the very next day we would debate the government bill. However lo and behold, and despite a story of Aesop's fables and rabbits and hares and comparing the government to one or the other, it turned out there were a few sloths in this chamber as well who did not want to debate the bill the next day at all, contrary to what they had said the day before.

As I said, the RAA has called for us to act with urgency; we did not last sitting Thursday, but I hope we will this sitting week. The reason they have done so is because this means that motorists are closer to getting real-time information to help them deal with the cost of living pressures of fuel. The RAA's research shows that Adelaide has the greatest variation in petrol prices of any state capital, the key reason they have been calling for this reform.

Under the government model reported prices will be aggregated electronically by the commissioner and published for public use. Information will be available on a website on how to access this data. Furthermore, the data will be available for use for free to third-party users, which means that existing fuel price apps will be able to access it and use it, and consumers who already try to track fuel prices will not have to download new apps: existing apps such as Fuel Spy and MotorMouth will be able to use this information. This is one of the reasons the Greens are supporting this bill.

As the commission notes in its report, 'the experience of other jurisdictions with fuel price transparency schemes suggests the take-up by motorists of government websites and apps is slow.' Indeed, after about two years in New South Wales when they introduced a similar scheme, the uptake was only 13 per cent, and the commission noted that it could be a more effective option to use other media to advise lowest petrol prices. This is enabled effectively under the government proposal. Conversely, under the FuelWatch model previously debated in this council, third-party users would have to pay to access and use that data.

Throughout this debate, we have seen proponents of the Fuel Watch Bill talk about the report of the Productivity Commission and, in particular, making a criticism of the fact that it did not make official recommendations. However, from the outset in the report, it is quite clear that this was not its purpose. The report, however, does have findings (while it does not have recommendations) and they are very useful for this debate, and I suppose they are convenient for some to ignore as they favour the government's model.

One of the other underlying ideas in this debate is that by providing greater price transparency, we are encouraging more competition between fuel retailers, leading to a benefit and lower prices for consumers. However, as is found in the literature reviewed by the South Australian Productivity Commission, the work that is required to comply with the WA-style scheme has the potential to restrict fuel retailers' ability to compete.

It is important to note that the commission concluded that evidence is inconclusive that price transparency schemes have any lasting impact on average price in price cycles. Further, even if we were to introduce a WA-style FuelWatch scheme, as is the alternative presented to this bill, there is no evidence to suggest that South Australia's fuel prices would fall under a similar weekly cycle.

Proponents of the FuelWatch model in this place most recently have taken to pointing out that in the last 45 days, Brisbane had higher fuel prices on average than Perth, trying to suggest that this is indicative that the FuelWatch model is better for consumers. This is naïve at best and disingenuous at worst, given we all know that there are a range of factors affecting fuel pricing.

Further, as I have just noted and as stated by the commission, there is no conclusive evidence that any scheme relating to price transparency has an impact on average fuel prices. This is, of course, not the only misinformation that has been thrown around in this debate. I have to say how bizarre it is as a Green having to be heated and invested in a debate on anything to do with fuel.

I want to address as well one of the other claims made about the FuelCheck model, where members opposite and in the other place have stated that by requiring retailers to update their prices within 30 minutes of a change, consumers will only have a few minutes of certainty if any at all, and might see prices change three or four times in a day. This is, of course, ridiculous, and a slippery slope; a fallacy in logic and a weakness in argument that does not stand up to the reality faced by both retailers and consumers.

No retailer is going to sit there and watch the fuel prices all day trying to catch out consumers by constantly changing their prices frequently throughout that day. They do not do it now and there is no evidence or logical reason why they would do it under the FuelCheck model. It is worth remembering as well that this is a two-year trial: we will be able to see at the end of it whether or not it has been successful and, if not, it can be tweaked or changed.

At this point it is worth noting that this may not reduce the overall cost of petrol, but it will help motorists make informed choices and find the cheapest prices at any given time. Furthermore, a price freeze, if it can be accommodated, can be introduced after the trial if it becomes clear that one is needed or would be an improvement on the scheme. Industry stakeholders consider the approach taken in Queensland to reporting price changes reduced administrative costs to retailers without compromising the integrity of information.

Finally, I would like to draw the chamber's attention to the conclusion of the commission's report which states:

The Commission notes WA is the only jurisdiction that has a 24-hour price freeze regime, which has been in place for almost twenty years. The New South Wales, NT and Queensland—all variants of the New South Wales Fuel Check Scheme—are much more recent, having been introduced within the past five years. The Commission suggests there is merit in adopting a model based on Option 1, largely because this model is pro-competition compared with Option 2.

All these jurisdictions, when seeking to implement their own fuel price transparency scheme reviewed the existing options, including the WA model, and all since the implementation of that model have chosen to not implement the WA model in their state.

As has been repeated many times throughout this debate, the WA model is 20 years old. It predates the existence of apps and of technological capability for real-time reporting. It might have served WA well but consumers in South Australia deserve a scheme that is modern enough to suit our modern needs, and our current price-watching habits, and that is what the government model achieves.

I note, of course, that there has been a lot of talk about the four Cs by the Hon. Frank Pangallo of clarity, certainty, consistency and convenience for consumers. Well, there is a fifth C that Andrew Barr, the Chief Minister of the ACT has raised and that is 'capping' prices and that is what we could be doing in this chamber should you really want to give that price certainty to consumers. I commend the bill.

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