Watchdog dismisses petrol-price politics
The head of the Commerce Commission has dismissed political pressure over petrol prices, insisting a groundbreaking study of the fuel industry will be impartial.
Yesterday the commission said it started its first market study of competition in the retail petrol and diesel industry in New Zealand, a month after changes to the Commerce Act allowing the study.
Commerce Minister Kris Faafoi announced the study this week, after a nomination from Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who in October said motorists were being ‘‘fleeced’’.
The comments were made as fuel prices climbed sharply to record levels between July and early October, before dropping sharply since, prompting public debate and calls for fuel companies to be boycotted on certain days.
Ardern defended the comments on Monday, clarifying only that the study may take longer than she had hoped.
‘‘They want to do it properly, and I have to let them do their job.’’
Commission chairman Dr Mark Berry, who will leave the role midway through the study, said the body was ‘‘aware of recent concerns’’ over fuel prices, but its role was to provide an ‘‘independent assessment of the level of competition in this market and what factors may be impacting on it’’.
Berry said the team that would undertake the study would do so with an open mind. ‘‘We’re a totally independent, quasi-judicial body. We will simply be analysing the evidence that we get against the relevant tests in the legislation.’’
Petrol companies BP and Z Energy, which owns Caltex in New Zealand, have welcomed the study, asserting that the commission is independent.
Berry would not comment on the public or political pressure on the organisation. ‘‘Political pressure is not an issue which is relevant to us.’’
In 2015, the commission approved a merger between Z Energy and Chevron (which operates under the Caltex brand in New Zealand), finding that the merger would not substantially reduce competition. It required the companies to sell some stations and businesses as part of the finding.
Berry denied that finding would make it harder for the commission to take an objective position, saying the two studies were quite different.
Chairman Dr Mark Berry says the Commerce Commission can undertake an impartial assessment of competition in the fuel industry.