The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) just won’t go away. Several times they have taken petrol providers to court for price fixing and collusion; several times they have been stymied. But that doesn’t mean they’ve given up.

On the contrary, ACCC Chairman Rod Sims is using new “compulsory information gathering powers,” enacted by Minister for Competition Bruce Billson, to probe glaring price disparities between city and regional areas.

In  a paper published on Friday the ACCC proves petrol prices outside mainland state capitals attract as much as a 35 cents per litre price hike.

Some disparity between regional and metropolitan areas is expected due to transportation costs and lower sales volumes. But the petrol price slump of recent months has not been passed on in country areas as it has in the cities.

The average gap in petrol prices (between regional and metropolitan areas) was 5.7 cents per litre in in mid 2014. By December that had widened to 17.6 cents a litre.

What makes this cash grab even more galling is that regional drivers (on average) drive larger vehicles, further distances and thereby purchase more fuel per capita.

ACCC Chairman Rod Sims. Image: www.smh.com.au

ACCC Chairman Rod Sims. Image: www.smh.com.au

Toowoomba has the dubious honour of being the most ripped-off when it comes to petrol prices. Motorists in the Queensland town have to fork out 21.1 cents per litre more than their counterparts in major cities.

The ACCC is introducing “micro studies” tracking the prices of three unnamed regional centres. The consumer watchdog said it will then be hunting for links between major suppliers of cartel behaviour.

Everyone knows the petrol companies rip us off. Everyone knows country areas get it worse than metropolitan areas. Proving it is quite another matter. But the ACCC isn’t stopping until they do.

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