Thursday March 6, 2008
THE State Government has accused petrol stations of refusing to sell premium unleaded fuel on Tuesdays – the cheapest day of the week – after a Government survey found that a quarter of Sydney’s stations shut their premium unleaded bowsers that day.
“I will be contacting the new petrol commissioner with the results of this survey and asking him to investigate this as a matter of priority when he takes up the job,” the Minister for Fair Trading, Linda Burney, said.
She said she wanted to test the claim by the oil companies of availability problems in supplying premium fuels, especially since premium unleaded was readily available all other days.
If the increase in demand for premium was the cause of the lack of supply, then it was “beyond belief that shortages just happen to fall on the day when petrol prices are usually at their lowest and can be resolved in time for the weekly price peak”, Ms Burney said.
She said Fair Trading inspectors checked the availability of premium unleaded petrol at 174 metropolitan service stations on Tuesday, and found it was not available at a quarter of the service stations visited.
“Why is the fuel available on a Monday, not available on a Tuesday and available again on a Wednesday when the price of fuel starts to increase up to its maximum, which seems to be a Thursday?” Ms Burney asked.
Asked if she was accusing those petrol stations of profiteering, she said: “I am saying it explicitly.
“If premium petrol is being held back on a Tuesday when it’s the cheapest, then the logic is that it’s being held back because it’s cheap on Tuesday, it’s being rereleased on Wednesday when the price is more expensive.”
The head of the Service Station Association, Ron Bowden, said: “We’re pretty upset with the allegation. There is no evidence of it.”
As far as he knew, the Government had not sought to discuss the matter with his association, or with the oil refiners. “If you’re going to hold back premium unleaded, then why not hold back normal unleaded as well?” he said. “It doesn’t make sense.”
One of Sydney’s largest oil suppliers, Shell, said it advised the Department of Water and Energy in January of a supply problem with premium. A spokeswoman suggested one government department might not have discussed the situation with another.
Shell operates the Clyde refinery and typically accounts for about a third of Sydney’s oil supplies. It does not expect to be able to resume supplies of premium unleaded until May at the earliest. Shell said it had planned to shut the part of the refinery that produces premium unleaded petrol this month, but had to bring forward the closure to January, which left it unable to build up supplies to cushion the shortfall. Attempts to import replacement premium fuel had been unsuccessful.
A Shell spokeswoman denied that it would withhold supplies on certain days of the week, since the company was unable to supply any premium on any day of the week in NSW and the ACT.
A spokesman for Caltex, the other main oil supplier to Sydney, said it had not experienced any supply problems with premium unleaded.