PETROL BOWSER BONANZA
By MARY MANN and RACHEL AFFLICK
PRESSURE from the media and the NRMA had blocked the traditional Easter holiday price spike on the Northern Rivers, NRMA boss Alan Evans said yesterday.
But the Service Stations Association and Caltex Australia have rejected the claim, with Caltex saying it was a myth that petrol prices jumped during holiday periods.
Northern Rivers locals were expecting a price rise comparable to Sydney's, which jumped up to 17 cents per litre, and were relieved by the weekend's steady prices.
Coffs Harbour couple Lyle and Annette Vidler said Ballina's offering of about 126 cents a litre on premium unleaded petrol over the weekend was almost too good to be true, admitting they had paid 143.5 cents a litre in their home town just days earlier.
"Compared with Coffs it's good, especially for Easter," Mr Vidler said as he filled up at Ballina's Big Prawn Caltex service station.
Goonellabah father of two Damian Thurgate paid 115.5 cents a litre for unleaded petrol in Lismore, describing it as 'the same as usual'.
"It's still high but I heard it was going to be $1.40 or something like that," Mr Thurgate said.
Mr Evans, the president of NRMA, said if the media hadn't been keeping such a close eye on the prices, motorists state-wide would have been hit with a much bigger price jump.
I expected prices in country areas to go up a lot higher, to the mid to high $1.30s," he said. "But this is one time when I'm happy to be wrong."
Mr Evans said petrol prices in country areas were the lowest he had seen on an Easter weekend in a 'very long time', and that he could not remember the last time country prices were lower than city prices over an Easter break. He said the holiday price jumps had been occurring for many years and that the Federal Government should intervene and give the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission 'more teeth' to force oil companies to justify them.
Mr Evans said over the weekend Sydney motorists had seen jumps of 15 to 17 cents a litre and this could not be explained by the 'weekly price cycle'.
But Caltex Australia and the Service Stations Association said price rises were not because of the Easter holidays.
"Today's increases in petrol prices are typical of the weekly discount cycle that occurs in many capital cities," Caltex managing director and CEO Des King said.
"Weekly price cycles before holidays are often incorrectly claimed to be holiday price increases."
The Service Stations Association CEO Ron Bowden also dismissed the idea consumers were being ripped off, saying in the cities it was normal for prices to move 12 to 13 cents throughout the week.
He said Australia had among the cheapest petrol prices in the developed world, and doubted there was collusion between retailers to lift prices.
"I've been in the industry for over 20 years and I've never seen any," Mr Bowden said.
Mr King said the myth of holiday price increases was debunked in Caltex's submission last year to the Senate inquiry into petrol pricing.