NSW Fuel Check fiasco

It seems that every week, the Baird Government in NSW comes up with a new reason for ACAPMA to criticise it.

Last week, it was the Government’s Fuel Check regulation – an initiative designed to establish a new online pricing system that requires all fuel retailers to immediately notify the NSW Department of Fair Trading every time they change the fuel price on the forecourt.

Most fuel retailers will know a little bit about the initiative having recently received a formal request from NSW Fair Trading for the provision of information about their retail sites.

The information being collected via this process is to be used as the basis for the operation of both the new Biofuels laws and the new Fuel Check Laws.

In an email addressed to a number of industry stakeholders, the NSW Department of Fair Trading advised the following:

“One of the common questions at the ICT workshops was ‘how soon after a price change will a service station be required to submit their prices to the Fuel Check application?’ For clarity and to ensure that industry hears a consistent message, I would like to reiterate Fair Trading’s response.

Division 6 of the Fair Trading Act states that the price listed on Fuel Check should match the price for which that fuel is being offered at the physical service station. This means that if there is any variation between these prices [eg, the price on Fuel Check does not equal that shown on a physical board] the service station could be committing an offence and Fair Trading may take compliance action. Service station owners and operators are strongly encouraged to consider how to manage their operations to ensure that they can comply with this requirement.”

Any retailer knows that if the fuel price is increasing, the price board needs to be changed first. This is typically some five minutes prior to changing the price on the pumps and POS system, to allow any queuing customers the benefit of the advertised price on board at the time they entered the service station.

Likewise, if the price is moving down, the pumps and POS system have to change first, before the price on the price board is reduced.

It therefore follows that the notion that both of the above will happen simultaneously – and in line with a price file being sent to the NSW Government for posting of that same price without delay – is quite simply unrealistic.

“The NSW Government could be forgiven for its ignorance of how fuel-pricing notifications work between fuel marketers and fuel retailers, except for the fact that NSW Fair Trading has been repeatedly advised of these issues by industry in discussions over the past two months,” ACAPMA CEO Mark McKenzie said.

“Apparently, NSW Fair Trading appears to know better.

“This is quite simply a train wreck developing before our eyes.

“The way the system is being designed, there is a real risk that fuel retailers could be prosecuted for inconsistencies between the price displayed on the forecourt and prices displayed on the Government’s new Fuel Check app.

“One possible market response could be a dramatic reduction in fuel-price discounting in NSW to the detriment of all NSW motorists.”

Operation of the new Fuel Check app is expected to come into force in July 2016 and all NSW fuel retailers are encouraged to visit the NSW Fair Trading website to better understand the requirements of the new laws.

In the meantime, ACAPMA will continue to work with other industry stakeholders to seek changes to the proposed design and operation of this system.

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