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They see multisite franchising as a means to achieve economies of scale and produce a greater return. When I asked whether these savings would translate into cheaper petrol prices, they were prepared to say only that it will “reduce pressure on upward price movements”. It would seem, then, Mr Speaker, that if there were benefits from multisite franchising, which is itself to be proved, they would be for the oil companies only and not necessarily for the motoring public.
The primary objective of this Bill is to maintain competition in the ACT retail petrol market. The moratorium put in place by this Bill will be lifted only after an assessment by our Government of a report of an inquiry being conducted by the Trade Practices Commission into multisite franchise agreements or a demonstrable benefit to consumers arising out of these practices. By that I do not mean promises we have all heard before; I mean real, demonstrable and long-term benefits for consumers.
Mr Speaker, the Bill before the Assembly will limit the making of new franchise agreements for sites in the ACT in certain circumstances. The major oil companies will not be able to make new franchise agreements with a person, company or related body corporate where there is already another franchise in the ACT or elsewhere in Australia between the same parties. The Bill will also guard against any franchise sites reverting to commission agent sites if, during the operation of the proposed legislation, a franchise agreement expires. The proposed legislation will not affect franchise agreements in existence before 17 August and will not prevent existing owners from franchising sites in the future, provided it is not to a person or company which already has another franchise. Also, the Bill will not prevent oil companies from buying new sites or selling existing sites to independents.
I am disappointed that there has arisen a need to legislate to get a fair deal for the Canberra motorist, but the oil companies have left the Government with no choice. Until those companies can demonstrate that efficiencies gained will also be passed on to the consumer and that local business opportunities will not be adversely affected, such a further concentration of ownership through multisite franchising cannot be argued to be in the public interest.
Mr Speaker, I have circulated in the chamber amendments which the Government proposes to move when the Bill is debated. They make it clear that the assignment of a franchisee’s interest is also restricted by this legislation. I will be asking members to consider debating this Bill on Thursday of this week. The reason, Mr Speaker, is very simple. This Bill contains an element of retrospectivity until 17 August. As an Assembly we should limit the effect of that retrospectivity to the extent possible. Therefore, I will be asking that we debate this Bill in this sitting rather than wait until the October sitting. I commend the Fair Trading (Petroleum Retail Marketing) Bill to the Assembly.
Debate (on motion by Mr Connolly) adjourned.