MOTORISTS in Lismore and Casino are being ripped off on fuel in the lead up to school holidays and Christmas, according to a competition law expert.
Associate Professor Frank Zumbo of the University of NSW said the national wholesale price for petrol had fallen by about 10 cents a litre since mid-October.
He said the saving had been passed on in metropolitan centres and at other North Coast locations but not in Lismore or Casino.
Prof Zumbo wants the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) to acknowledge the rip-off and for the Federal Government to strengthen competition laws, particularly in relation to 'creeping acquisitions'.
That is where large retailers buy out small retailers to increase their control over a market.
Prof Zumbo attributed the wholesale price fall to weak global demand caused by economic and financial market uncertainty.
"The Singapore benchmark price is the starting point for local prices and in the middle of October it started to fall dramatically," Prof Zumbo said.
"Despite the sharp fall in the wholesale price, the retail prices in Lismore and Casino have defied gravity . . . and retailers have decided to pocket the windfall and keep prices inflated."
An ACCC spokesman said that when a regional market looked to be of concern, the organisation could review recent price movements and the structure of the market and could visit the town and talk to local retailers to determine whether there was a need for further investigation.
And he said changes in the international petrol price were slower to affect country prices because country retailers replenished their stocks less often because of lower sales volumes.
"This means that petrol prices in rural and regional Australia are more stable than prices in larger markets," the ACCC spokesman said.
But Prof Zumbo thinks the retailers have had long enough.
"The falls in the wholesale price have been occurring for several weeks so there has been sufficient time for the retail prices to have come down sharply in Lismore and Casino," he said.
Federal Page MP Janelle Saffin sympathised with motorist outrage over high fuel prices.
"When the wholesale price of petrol drops, that should be flowing on to us as well," she said.
But she said motorists could expect to pay less in coming weeks as the wholesale price drop flows through.
She also encouraged motorists to check web sites such as Motor Mouth which tracks the average price of fuel at 150 locations, including Lismore and Casino, to see if they're paying more.
Meanwhile, concerns have been raised regarding a promotional campaign by Coles Liquorland which links fuel discounts of up to 25 cents a litre to alcohol purchases.
Coles and Woolworths associated fuel outlets account for 63% of all service stations nationally.
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