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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1998 Week 9 Hansard (17 November) . . Page.. 2549 ..

MR HUMPHRIES (continuing):

Certainly as motorists we have all experienced the price of petrol mysteriously going up not very far from public holidays or from Public Service paydays. In fact, only last Public Service payday that was the experience. I think it is true to say that there is less of that going on and that there are some players in the marketplace apparently prepared not to collude in that way but to offer real price competitiveness to customers. Let us hope that the increasing competition in the marketplace achieves that goal. I have noticed in the last few weeks that Burmah has now opened its second site in the ACT, in Braddon. I understand that Woolworths Plus is also exploring the availability of other sites in parts of Canberra which they do not currently work in. I can only hope that that process does lead to higher levels of competition.

Mr Speaker, the legislation was put in place originally on the urging of the Motor Trades Association representing local retailers. They have now urged the Government to repeal the legislation. On both occasions the Government has seen fit to support their call. I do not know whether I would go so far as to say that the legislation has achieved nothing. I think that the arrangements being made in respect of some of those retailers now seeking to exit the marketplace and for whom exemptions have already been granted under the legislation were probably fairer deals than might otherwise have been the case. It is hard to say for certain but they appear to have negotiated better exiting arrangements than might otherwise have been the case had they not had a barrier to this process and a chance for the Government to nay-say a particular proposal.

Mr Speaker, it is perfectly clear that these sorts of restrictions are no longer capable of being enforced and that there are too many changes taking place in the marketplace to attempt to freeze the situation as it was with respect to oil company control in 1995. Above all, we have to deliver to the people of this Territory an ongoing flexible marketplace which changes to meet emerging needs. There are good sides of that and there are downsides. One of the downsides of that arrangement, I believe, will be the closure of a number of smaller suburban-based petrol stations. Clearly many oil companies are looking at concentrating their outlets on major roads and exits and entry points to the city. We may view that process with some trepidation, but it is a reality of commercial change going on all over Australia in the retail petrol market. We have to make sure that the motivations for those changes are about greater competition and better price advantage and services to customers, not about other things.

Members will be aware that my colleague Mr Smyth has announced changes to the land and planning policy on disused service station sites to provide that, in essence, service station control has to be offered to existing operators where a site is being vacated or it is proposed that it be vacated by the oil major concerned. If an operator wants to continue on that site but the oil company wants to pull out of the site, it has to be offered to that local trader first and foremost. If the local trader does not want to, or anybody else is not found, operate the site, then it is possible to vacate the site and to use it for other purposes such as medium-density housing or something of that kind. We feel that that kind of measure in place ensures that where a local trader wants to keep going there is some mechanism for him or her to do that.

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