Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1995 Week 7 Hansard (19 October) . . Page.. 1860 ..
MR CONNOLLY (continuing):
I would hope that Mr Humphries's advisers have looked at that point because it would be most regrettable if the passage of this Bill by this Assembly has no impact on the market, which I am certain it will not - that is to say, it will in no way bring about cheaper petroleum products for consumers - and embroils the ACT in expensive and potentially losing litigation, thus exposing the ratepayers to very considerable legal costs. I do point out that the New South Wales Government is going public on the proposition that it is not supporting this legislation because of some quite grave concerns that it would be inconsistent with Commonwealth law. Shell, I understand, is making that point fairly vigorously in New South Wales. I hope that that point has been looked at, because it certainly seems to be a very valid issue.
MR HUMPHRIES (Attorney-General and Minister for Consumer Affairs) (12.07): Mr Speaker, let me respond to some of the things Mr Connolly has said. Mr Connolly keeps referring to this question of the pressure being on the oil companies or on retailers. He has not quite explained what causes this pressure or what the nature of this pressure is. I can only measure it in certain ways. Measuring it by what the price of petrol is is a bit difficult because members who occasionally leave the ACT and travel to other parts of this country would observe that they too are affected by the strange phenomenon of petrol prices varying from time to time and from place to place. Just as prices in the ACT have risen roughly throughout the course of this year, so too have prices risen throughout the same period in the rest of Australia, and quite consistently risen. So, Mr Speaker, there are price rises across the nation.
The essential question, of course, is what the price differential is between the ACT and comparable markets in Sydney and Melbourne. I confirm the advice I gave to the Assembly earlier, which is that the price differential between Sydney and Canberra at the last point at which I checked is lower than it was at the beginning of this year. If there is some view that pressure has come off, it has not been reflected in the way in which petrol is priced in the ACT. If anything, there are indications that there is more pressure on; but, again, I am not sure what causes this pressure or how this pressure manifests itself. If irritating the oil companies is an indication of pressure, I would suggest that the ACT Government creates as much pressure on oil prices as anything that the previous Government was able to generate.
Mr Speaker, Mr Connolly has asked expressly whether the New South Wales Government's position that there might be some problems with respect to inconsistency between the Commonwealth sites Act and this legislation has been explored. The answer, of course, is, "Yes, it has", and the advice to the ACT Government from the Attorney-General's Department is that there is no inconsistency. Like any legal advice, it is rarely couched in terms of absolute certainty; but the advice we have, the opinion of the Attorney-General's Department, is that there is not a problem. It does not surprise me that there should be different advice in New South Wales. There does tend to be a difference of view between lawyers in any given situation. Some say that if you have five lawyers in a room you will have six points of view.
Mr Speaker, Mr Connolly made reference on a previous occasion to the issue of whether there could be acquisition on unjust terms by virtue of the legislation putting certain restrictions on the capacity of franchisees to transfer their franchise. He also raised the question of whether members of the same family would get a transfer between