The Northern Territory news Sat 23 Jan 2010
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30 Northern Territory News, Saturday, January 23, 2010 www.ntnews.com.au P U B : N T N E W S D A T E : 2 3 -J A N -2 0 1 0 P A G E : 3 0 C O L O R : C M Y K The Council welcomes written submissions on any CTC focus areas from all Territorians and interested persons. To provide a written submission, register your interest to attend the public hearing or for further information, please contact: Maria Viegas: (08) 8946 1480 Email: email@example.com Mail: GPO Box 3721 DARWIN NT 0801 Web: http://www.nt.gov.au/lant/parliament/committees/comm/comm.shtml WITNESSES Council Members only Power And Water Mr Andrew Macrides, Managing Director Council will meet deliberatively during lunch. Police, Fire & Emergency Services Commander Peter Gordon Mr Richard Mu, NT Police Statistician Department of Justice Mr Stephen Jackson Director Research and Statistics Department of Housing, Local Government and Regional Services Mr Bob Beadman NT Coordinator-General for Remote Services Council Members only m g 3 0 0 6 2 5 TIME 9:30-10:30 AM 10:30AM-12:30PM 12:30-1:30PM 1:30-3:30PM 3:30 - 4:30PM 4:30-5:00PM TOPIC DELIBERATIVE MEETING NT Power generation network LUNCH Reported NT domestic violence statistics Working Future DELIBERATIVE MEETING LEGISLATIVE ASSEMBLY of the NORTHERN TERRITORY PARLIAMENTARY COMMITTEE COUNCIL OF TERRITORY CO-OPERATION PUBLIC HEARING The next public hearing will be held on Thursday 28 January 2010 from 10:30am - 5:00pm in the Litchfield Room, Level 3, Parliament House Darwin. The program is as follows: Govt ideas out of petrol ALL TALK, NO ACTION : Chris Bowen and Prime Minister Kevin Rudd announce the Fuelwatch scheme at Penrith City Council in April 2008 All we are gettingwith formal monitoring is, at best, more watching and, at worse, just a new name for the watching and an attempt to make us feel that something is being done BIG ISSUE: The cost of petrol and the troubled Fuelwatch scheme will be on the minds of voters in the lead up to the next federal election A S WE enter an election year its opportune to reflect on the Federal Governments track record on petrol issues. In doing so, it will become very obvious that the Federal Government, like the previous government, has been fumbling the ball very badly on petrol issues and motorists are paying the price. Lets start when the Labor Party was in opposition. Grand promises were made and expectations raised amongst the voters that Labor was different to the then Coalition government. Kevin Rudd, Wayne Swan and Chris Bowen promised us a tough petrol cop on the beat. Great, you may have thought! The only thing is that we already supposedly had a competition cop on the beat. Its called the ACCC. So, why did we need a petrol cop? Well, either Labor thought that the existing cop was not tough enough or Labor needed a gimmick on petrol to take to the election. Now if Labor felt that the ACCC was not tough or strong enough, then obviously the new petrol cop would need new powers or perhaps a new website to tell the world how vigorously the cop was watching petrol prices. That was all before the election. With Labor now installed in government it was crunch time for Chris Bowen, the new competition Minister in the Rudd Government. A search for a Petrol Commissioner was promptly started. The search ended with the appointment of Pat Walker, one of the architects of the WA Fuelwatch website. So Chris Bowen was hoping to find himself both a petrol cop and a website at the same time. All seemed to be going well for Chris Bowen until things started to unravel. First, Pat Walker resigned for personal reasons within months and Bowens Federal Fuelwatch scheme was in trouble in the Senate. Now the game had changed for the Federal Government and Bowen was left holding the hot potato. A new search was started for an even newer Petrol Commissioner and the old competition cop was heard telling us how good the Fuelwatch scheme was going to be for motorists. The only problem was that the same ACCC had, under the previous government, told us that Fuelwatch was not the way forward. So now we had the ACCC apparently contradicting itself, but conveniently that fitted in with the Federal Governments need to sell Fuelwatch. Now, of course, the ACCC is entitled to change its views following, for example, new evidence, but that unfortunately calls into question other positions taken by the ACCC at one point in time, only to be changed at a later point. Did the ACCC get it wrong in the first place? Did the ACCC miss vital evidence at first instance? Was the initial ACCC analysis not as rigorous as it could have been? Anyway, the point is that the ACCC needs to get it right the first time and any changes of ACCC views need to be extremely rare lest confidence in the ACCC or its independence is shaken. With increasingly belligerent attempts by Federal Government to sell Fuelwatch failing and ultimately doomed, the Government turned to Joe Dimasi, a long serving ACCC economist, as the next Petrol Commissioner. Was Mr Dimasi to be given new powers? Yes and no, and not really. Yes; the ACCC was given the power to formally monitor unleaded petrol prices. Wow, the power to formally monitor. Sounds impressive doesnt it? But given the ACCC tells us it has always informally monitored petrol prices, all we are getting with formal monitoring is, at best, more watching and, at worse, just a new name for the watching and an attempt to make us feel that something is being done. Yes; the ACCC was given the power to put those participating in a cartel in jail, but we have heard nothing from the ACCC about it using that power in the petrol industry. We are just told by the ACCC that they are not at liberty to discuss cartel prosecutions. Fine, we dont want to jeopardise prosecutions by inappropriate disclosure, but we need more than a trust-us approach from the ACCC. No; the Federal Government has not yet made changes to our competition laws to deal with anticompetitive price co-ordination behaviour, changes that the ACCC itself recommended in its 2007 Petrol Report. The ACCC even went so far as to provide a draft of the necessary statutory changes. Chris Bowen issued a consultation paper early last year, but the current Competition Minister, Craig Emerson, is yet to follow up despite being in his new role for over six months. Delay by the Federal Government in implementing the ACCC recommended changes means that by necessary implication the ACCCs legislative power currently falls short of whats needed to effectively deal with the corporate crooks ripping off motorists. The Federal Government and the ACCC have failed to break up the oil company cosy club at the wholesale level. The oil companies have a stranglehold at the wholesale level and their commercial arrangements at that level raise competition concerns, concerns that the ACCC itself identified in its 2007 Petrol Report. The Federal Government and the ACCC have failed to ensure complete transparency on wholesale pricing by oil companies. The wholesale price at which petrol retailers, especially independents, buy their petrol from the oil companies is critical in determining how competitive the retail prices are to motorists. Its simple really, inflated wholesale prices lead to inflated retail prices. So in this election year the Federal Government can do so much more to keep petrol prices down. Minister Emerson has all the ACCCs recommendations and legislative proposals to implement so the sooner he does that the better off motorists will be. THE Federal Government can do more to bring down petrol prices, writes Associate Professor FRANK ZUMBO