Constituency Statement - Fuel prices in Hinkler
Mr PITT: I rise to talk of something of concern to all of us in this place around the cost of living, and that is the current price of fuel, particularly in regional areas. This is an issue which has been raised with me and, I am sure, raised with all colleagues right around the country. Previously, I've written to the ACCC. At the time, Minister Bilson had taken action, but it's time to look again. The RACQ's September 2018 fuel prices guide showed that the average price for unleaded in Bundaberg was 149.2 cents per litre. In Hervey Bay, at the other end of my electorate, about an hour and a half south of Bundaberg by car, it was 156.4, and in Maryborough, which is in the neighbouring electorate of Wide Bay, it was 150.3. That is already a differential of six cents between two centres not that far apart. In 2017, those prices were 126 cents in Bundaberg and 127 cents in Hervey Bay. Clearly, the distance hasn't changed. I'd suggest the wholesale price of fuel would be the same for all providers. So how could there be such a large differential?
In terms of how much concern this is causing my constituents, this is an email that we received just this week from one such constituent in the southern end of the electorate. He said:
What appears to be price gauging by the fuel industry across the country is getting out of hand. In my mind what is being blamed for the rising costs don't seem logical. So-called rising oil prices and a falling Australian dollar do not cause fuel prices to rise so rapidly. The people in your electorate are hurting badly.
As I've spoken about in this place on many occasions, the statistical area of Wide Bay has the lowest per capita income in the country, at just $34,000 per year, and has had for some two decades. They cannot afford increases in costs of living such as this.
This week, I've written to Senator Michaelia Cash, the Minister for Small and Family Business and to the head of the ACCC asking for the ACCC to take more action on the price of fuel. We originally took action under Bruce Billson, which did cause a reduction at that time, back in December 2014. But, clearly in my mind, these prices do not add up. They simply do not add up. In regional areas, the people I represent cannot afford to continue to pay such high prices for fuel.
We've seen in recent times a royal commission into banks. We now have a royal commission into aged care. There's been noise about a royal commission into electricity. Perhaps it is time for a royal commission into fuel pricing. Because once again, major providers—and it is not our local retailers; they have a very fixed margin—the wholesale price is what adjusts. That is what is causing the change. We should be looking much more closely at the price of fuel in regional areas.