Transcript – Interview with Brett McLeod, 3AW

Subjects: ACCC Fuel Monitoring Report, Prime Minister’s Address to Parliament, security at APH

Brett McLeod: Right now I want to talk about petrol prices. It’s school holidays and traditionally that’s when we see a nice hefty spike in petrol prices but the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) is being given extra powers, extra reporting powers from the Government which hopefully will make us as a consumer, a little bit better informed.

The Minister for Small Business Bruce Billson joins us now. Good afternoon.

Minister Billson: Good afternoon to you Brett and your listeners.

Brett McLeod: What’s the change that is being put forward today?

Minister Billson: Well you pretty much nailed it in your intro Brett. At the moment the ACCC does an annual Fuel Price Monitoring Report and to be frank with you, it’s a gripping read about what happened over the last 12 months and a lot of policy analysts and people that love to reflect on those price movements find it pretty interesting.

But for the average motorist it’s too late. The issues of particular concern for them, like the one you touched on, why is there a spike prior to school holidays? Why is it when LPG international benchmark prices go up, the LPG price goes up immediately but when it goes down it seems to take forever to change? What’s happening in the premium fuel market? You know specific issues are very much at the front of mind for motorists, motoring organisations and the fuel supply industry and we want the ACCC to target those and produce useful, actionable information quarterly rather than have this deep reflection once a year.

Brett McLeod: So how is that going to help the consumer? They will get the information more regularly but it’s still on a three monthly basis. What’s that going to do?

Minister Billson: You’ll get that regular information quarterly but what we are doing is giving the ACCC a new directive to look at these specific target areas where a deep dive is required so they can look at what is happening in particular regions. Why is it that in Victoria fuel prices in one region might be substantially different than the region next door even though things like travel costs and fuel volumes might be much the same? Why are those differences there?

So it’s about targeting those areas of concern, getting deeply into the areas of fuel price confusion, bewilderment, concern so that we can inform motorists about what is going on and the ACCC can put a bright spotlight on areas where we think something is irregular.

Brett McLeod: What about some sort of, well its long been talked about and it has actually been put into action sometimes, and that’s a website or an app where people can look at the lowest prices near them. Is that ever going to happen?

Minister Billson: Yes, there are a few in the market offering that at the moment Brett and its designed to deal with the imbalance in information between fuel retailers and motorists. What the ACCC has been focusing on with its recent enforcement activity is that kind of material is shared in real time between the petrol retailers, yet for the motorists they might get it only a few times a day. The concern the Commission has is that if you and I were running a fuel service station and we thought we might edge our prices up by 0.2 cents per litre and then watch to see whether our neighbours or our competitors follow, the idea there is that you optimise the margin for the fuel retailer by having different vendors knowing what everyone else is doing and then disadvantage the motorists. So that’s the thinking behind what the ACCC is doing.

Brett McLeod: Do you think the ACCC is having an impact?

Minister Billson: I do, I’ve seen a couple of areas where that’s made a difference. Those gargantuan shopper dockets that led some people to feel they were getting a great big bargain but they were actually paying for it in other ways and also at a time when fuel margins increased. They said to the fuel companies don’t use that kind of promotion to mask a general increase in prices to motorists, that’s been helpful.

The simple fact that we are making this change is already alerting the fuel retailers to the fact that there will be a spotlight put on areas of concern. I’ve already had motoring organisations and Members of Parliament come to me saying there are some weird things going on in our part of the world in fuel and this is one area we would like the ACCC to take a deep dive into and look at what is happening.

Brett McLeod: I just want to ask you one thing as the Minister for Small Business. You would have been in Parliament when Tony Abbott was delivering his latest assessment on what really is becoming an extension of the war on terror. What was the atmosphere in parliament this afternoon?

Minister Billson: Very sombre and reflective. These are challenges not just for our nation but the globe. It’s also about Australian’s doing important work overseas to make sure we are safe at home and abroad and how we are responding to the threat of terrorism. There is some new legislation that’s being introduced in the coming days, there was an overview of that given as well as how an extra $360 million is being provided to our police and security agencies to make sure they’ve got the tools they need to deal not with any particular community, it’s not targeting any particular religion, it’s not about what people wear, it’s about criminal conduct that needs to be dealt with decisively and making sure our nation is safe and so are our people.

Brett McLeod: There is, as we speak Australian jets and Australian crews heading to the Middle East. How much does that weigh on the minds of politician’s when making these sorts of decisions, that you are putting Australians in harm’s way?

Minister Billson: Very heavily. This is a very heavy responsibility that the Prime Minister, the National Security Council and the Cabinet take very very seriously. We try to get the best possible advice, think about what is the most appropriate action in the national interest and I might say in a former life I was the Veterans Affairs Minister and Minister for Defence Personnel and have spoken with the families that have lost loved ones while those near and dear to them have been doing what the nation has asked of them overseas.

So that is very heavily weighed and deeply reflected upon in the decision making process.

Brett McLeod: One other thing I must ask you as an MP, how did you feel walking into Parliament House today?

Minister Billson: It was a bit different this morning.

Brett McLeod: With all the extra security?

Minister Billson: Yes it was more prominent than I can recall. I suppose coming in where I do, not much had changed because we go into a more secured area of the building anyway but even moving within the building there’s a heightened awareness about who’s got what passes and where they need to be in the building and making sure there is a high degree of awareness so people can go about their business and interact as effectively as we can, mindful that there are other influences we have to take into account and guard against.

Brett McLeod: I’m sure you’re not alone. Bruce Billson, Minister for Small Business, thanks for your time today.

Minister Billson: Thanks for your interest Brett.