Watch­dog dis­misses petrol-price pol­i­tics

The Press - - Business - Up­dated all day at Hamish Ruther­ford hamish.ruther­[email protected]

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.

KEVIN STENT/ STUFF

Chair­man Dr Mark Berry says the Com­merce Com­mis­sion can un­der­take an im­par­tial as­sess­ment of com­pe­ti­tion in the fuel in­dus­try.

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