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FuelWatch plan sparks price debate

INDEPENDENT petrol retailers on the Northern Rivers are worried the Federal Government's proposed FuelWatch scheme will do little to ease prices at the pump, but instead may detract from competition and favour the big guys.

The scheme, which begins in December, requires every petrol station around the nation to notify the Australian Consumer and Competition Commission of their prices for the next 24 hours by 2pm each day.

An hour later the information will be available to consumers on a National FuelWatch website, with email and SMS services for those wanting the cheapest fuel deals in their area.

The owner of Neumann Baker's Corner in Lismore, Brad Baker, said the problem for independents was they often did not know from one day to the next how much they would be paying for tomorrow's petrol.

Not only would it be difficult to set their prices a day ahead, it could stop competition.

"If we can't drop our prices to match, the competition's gone and it's defeated the purpose," Mr Baker said.

Garry Johnston, another independent retailer, and owner of Neumann's Clunes, said the scheme reeked of doubled standards by the Federal Government, which was collecting GST from rising petrol prices, and at the same time targeting small business for putting up prices in line with rising costs.

Service Station Association president Craig Glasby said it was possible the scheme could cause prices to go up.

"The independent market is what drives the fuel discounting cycle down. They need to be able to react very quickly," he said.

However, Federal Page MP Janelle Saffin believed anything that would monitor and publicise what was going on with fuel prices would serve the public interest. "When proprietors know they're being watched like that it can impact on behaviour," she said.

Consumers yesterday were divided on the issue.

Working mother Chrissie Laws, of Goolmangar, said she recently had her car converted to gas to keep the running costs down. She said something needed to be done to stop prices rising, but FuelWatch was not the solution.

"From what I understand monitoring petrol stations might undercut small businesses," she said.

But motorist John Wing, who yesterday filled up at Byron Bay, said he was sick of watching fuel prices go up and was glad to see the Rudd Government was taking on the issue.

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