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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1998 Week 9 Hansard (17 November) . . Page.. 2548 ..

MR HARGREAVES (continuing):

We see this piece of legislation, if backed up with some punch from the Government, providing some measure of protection for small operators. They need this repeal to allow them the opportunity to bargain with major oil companies to ensure the viability of sites.

Let me mention another possibility precluded by the existing Act. Say a franchise was concluded, a small operator purchased the site and company No. 1 departed. Let us suppose that that small operator could not sustain the business but it was still a viable one. Under the existing Act he could not negotiate with another oil company for a franchise on that site. The repeal of the existing legislation will in fact open that possibility up. Whether operators take it up or not is another issue, but it does provide that opportunity.

I thank the Minister for the briefing that was provided. The only difficulty I had was the suggestion that the legislation may contribute to the levelling off of prices over holiday weekends, school holidays, et cetera. I said to the officers at the time that I thought that was hoping for too much. Indeed, I was somewhat chuffed to see the Minister only 24 hours later exhorting people to shop around the ACT, because guess what had happened? The price was starting to bounce back up again. However, this legislation is not intended to control the price of petrol. It is intended to create the competition which will do that.

Mr Speaker, the Commonwealth has announced its intention to repeal the Petroleum Retail Marketing Franchise Act 1980 and the Petroleum Retail Marketing Sites Act 1980. The Government says that these Acts underpin the operation of the ACT's Act. At the repeal of the Commonwealth legislation, the Commonwealth's intention to introduce increased competition may create greater flexibility in the petrol retail market. I congratulate the Government for having the same sort of commitment that Terry Connolly had in trying to get the best deal for our motorists. We assure the Government of our support for this sort of an attempt. We will not block legislation of this nature just for the sheer sake of it. We wish to see people get an opportunity to buy petrol at a fair price, and a cheap price, without fluctuation. Mr Speaker, I urge the Assembly to support this legislation.

MR HUMPHRIES (Attorney-General, Minister for Justice and Community Safety and Minister Assisting the Treasurer) (10.50), in reply: Mr Speaker, I want to thank the Opposition for its support on this piece of legislation and join Mr Hargreaves in expressing my hope that the new flexibility which we have seen in the marketplace in recent years will advantage the consumer and will provide a state of affairs where a level of genuine competition is taking place to the advantage of consumers and that the highly protected and highly uncompetitive petrol market which we experienced for a very long time in Canberra is a thing of the past.

It may be too early to be signing off that particular era in the ACT's history. As Mr Hargreaves points out, there are a number of major new players in the marketplace which are having the effect of shaking up the existing players very significantly. Whether that has removed the opportunity for cartels to operate and for collusion on the pricing of petrol, I suppose, is a matter we will have to take on notice.

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