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MR HUMPHRIES: I thank Mr Moore for the question, because it is obviously an issue of very great concern to some of those franchisees at the moment and an issue which I think the Government of the Territory cannot afford to overlook. It is clear that we have a number of moves occurring at the present time in the ACT by the major oil companies to reduce the level of competition which exists by further control over the number of franchisees and operators retailing petrol in the ACT.

Members might be aware that there is legislation at the Federal level called the Petroleum Retail Marketing Franchise Act 1980, which actually limits the number of petrol retail outlets that a single petrol company or other operator can control across the whole of Australia. However, members may not be aware that that limitation or that restriction in that Commonwealth Act does not in fact apply on a jurisdiction-by-jurisdiction basis. While it limits the number of sites that a particular company might own - and I think the figure is 5 per cent; but I could be wrong about that - it does not stop such an operator potentially controlling all the sites in one jurisdiction, particularly a small one like the ACT.

I regard it as a matter of some concern. In my view, there is a very real need for this Government to be sending a signal to petrol companies - in this case, particularly to the Shell Co. - that we are not prepared to stand by while the existing competitive mechanisms within the ACT are eroded. This place has debated on previous occasions whether the government should enhance or change those mechanisms. We will certainly be having further debates, I am sure, in this place about whether particular measures introduced by the previous Government are appropriate. In my view, obviously, it is extremely important to ensure that there are a range of players, really independent of each other, operating in the ACT market. If that is not the case - it should be - that level of competition should be protected. I have already asked that the question of restrictions on the number of retailing sites owned by a particular operator within a particular jurisdiction be placed on the agenda for the next meeting of Consumer Affairs Ministers. That meeting will take place in August. I am hoping that there will be some discussion at that stage about what steps we might take to restrict that policy.

It is also the case that the ACT should immediately examine - and it is currently examining - the question of limiting by legislation those sites in the ACT that any one operator might own. That is our policy. Our view is that this should be examined at least. I am not aware of any legal reason why the ACT could not take on board that question and legislate to prevent an operator controlling more than a certain percentage of the sites in the ACT.

Mr Connolly: We would fully support you on that.

MR HUMPHRIES: I note and accept the support offered from the other side of the chamber on the matter. The Trade Practices Commission has been notified of our intention to consider that matter. I believe that this is an issue that other jurisdictions would be prepared to take up. I am not indicating what the outcome will be, but I think that the companies concerned should be aware that they do not have any bosom buddies in this Government; that, if their interests conflict with the interests of a competitive retailing market in the ACT, they had better watch out, because those interests certainly will not be respected by this Government.

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