Joe Hockey’s poor-don’t-drive comment unleashes anger at local petrol prices

COST FACTOR: Nowchem managing director John Lamont encourages staff to fill up outside the Shoalhaven.

COST FACTOR: Nowchem managing director John Lamont encourages staff to fill up outside the Shoalhaven.

THE BUSINESSMAN

A LEADING Shoalhaven businessman, who runs a fleet of company cars for his sales staff, encourages his employees to fill up with petrol outside the area because local fuel prices are too exorbitant.

Nowchem managing director John Lamont said Nowra fuel prices, which can often be up to 18 cents above the state average, were “appalling”.

His company’s strategy to combat the high local prices is simple: “Wherever possible we always encourage the sales team to fuel up at places like Albion Park due to local fuels being significantly more expensive,” he said.

“Our staff do a lot of kilometres to meet clients and it’s not good for our region that money is not being spent here.

“We use a fuel card system with a local provider but with the Shoalhaven having some of the dearest petrol in the state, it makes it very tough.

“It is simply too expensive.

“I know the cost of bringing fuel to the area from Sydney and Wollongong and, based on those figures, either the wholesaler or retailer is making a significant profit and that does not benefit the region.”

He said the company fuel excise in particular would increase the cost of servicing customers.

“With a sales team using a dozen company cars to visit businesses on a daily basis, that cost will impact directly and will need to be passed on to the customers,” he said.

“But, more importantly, we have a workforce of more than 60 people, who are all forced to drive to work each day as they have no access to public transport. That impacts on their ability to spend money in other areas of the economy as fuel goes up on a weekly basis.”

THE NRMA

NRMA South Coast and ACT director Alan Evans challenged Treasurer Joe Hockey to try living on a South Coast income and pay for his own petrol.

“What Mr Hockey ignored is wealthier people spend more on fuel because their households have more cars, but we find as a proportion of income people in regional areas spend more on fuel because it’s further to get to work,  further to take children to school and there is little public transport,” Mr Evans said.

“I’m stunned at the mindset of the government. They don’t realise how important fuel is.

“It’s part of the lifeblood of the South Coast.

“Maybe Mr Hockey would like to come and live on a South Coast income and pay for his fuel.”

Mr Evans also encouraged South Coast residents to let their federal MP know how much a fuel excise will hurt.

Mr Evans said the furore over Treasurer Joe Hockey’s poor-don’t-drive comment was the perfect platform to “pester the hell out of your federal MP and let them know Joe’s wrong”.

Mr Evans said the NRMA expected the proposed increase in fuel excise would have a bigger impact on households than carbon tax would have had.

“On the subject of carbon tax I have to say I haven’t seen too much come off my bills yet,” he said.

THE DISTRIBUTOR

THE director of a South Coast fuel distribution company Tim Campbell said he was balancing bowser prices and overheads to keep his business viable.

Mr Campbell is a director of Kel Campbell.

The company supplies fuel for the South Coast with some retail service centres in Bomaderry, Shoalhaven Heads, Vincentia and Milton.

Mr Campbell said the company also supplied fuel to a handful of third party retail sites in the Shoalhaven.

“In most cases it’s for Woolworths and Caltex Star Marts and we just haul fuel from point A to point B,” he said.

He said the issue of local fuel prices was complicated and determined by competition and other influences on retail outlets.

The company owns two stations in Bomaderry, one next door to a Woolworths service station on the Princes Highway.

“I could discount that fuel and Woolworths would match me and that would throw out all profitability to running that site.

“We could discount our product back to my cost price but at the end of the day we’ve got overheads to cover and all we’ll end up with is our doors closed,” Mr Campbell said.

“We attempt to post a fair and reasonable board prices every day and I look at it seven days a week. I personally control the board prices at our sites.”

Mr Campbell said his prices had moved down a bit over the last couple of weeks as the cost of fuel in the ground comes down.

“The week before last, Nowra and Bomaderry had the same prices. I moved my price down because my margin allowed me to and then within 15 minutes Woolworths matched it.”

Mr Campbell said he did not know the prices other companies were paying for their fuel but said he knows Woolworths is Caltex’s biggest single customer and presumes it is treated as such.

“I’d like to get a better deal on fuel,” he said.

He suggested motorists continue to shop around for their fuel.

THE MAYOR

SHOALHAVEN Mayor Joanna Gash says the “cartel” of petrol suppliers needs to be broken up.

“It distresses me no end the prices we are paying for petrol and how it is often higher in pockets of areas where people need it the most,” she said.

“It is a cartel and I said that when I was the federal member.

“Prices are always cheaper in the city. Places that have access to lots of public transport, which we don’t.

“Locally petrol prices impact greatly.

“We need to put pressure on the government to try to do something.

“And they have to pressure the ACCC. I know they are working to strengthen their powers–- they need to be given some teeth and start calling the petrol suppliers in.

“Like we did at one stage – get them all together and try and stop the cartels.”

She often hears petrol prices are cheaper at Albion Park.

“It is hard when we are trying to revitalise and reactivate the Nowra CBD, yet there is something that is out of our control drawing people away. We hear of people travelling out of the area for fuel and at the same time going shopping,” she said.

“People need to realise though, by the time they get there and buy petrol have they really saved anything?

“Is it better to stay within the city and shop, where retail prices are very competitive.”

Cr Gash said wherever she could, she continued to use ethanol fuel which uses locally produced ethanol.

“I fill up at Shoalhaven Ethanol as much as I can and if I can’t get there I buy ethanol fuel at service stations. I have my own car and I pay for my fuel and council reimburses me,” she said.

THE MP

CONCERNED by the continual high petrol prices in the region, Gilmore MP Ann Sudmalis is calling on the ACCC to include the electorate as part of a trial analysing regional petrol prices.

Mrs Sudmalis will meet with the Minister for Small Business Bruce Billson to try to set up a strategy for the region, including the ACCC specifically looking at petrol pricing and reasons for the high prices being paid in Gilmore.

“Our prices are stupendously high,” she said.

“We keep getting told it is due to transport costs, I know that is not the problem and have anecdotal evidence to prove it.

“Lack of competition in the local area is a problem.

“I’m hoping through Minister Billson to get Gilmore included as a regional trial site for ACCC analysis on prices and see what is happening here and what are the market forces.”

Nowra was ranked the 13th highest place to purchase fuel in NSW on the NRMA Bowser Buster website on Thursday, with the average unleaded petrol price being $1.58.4 cents a litre, 18.6 cents a litre dearer than the cheapest, Sydney, at $1.39.8.

Wollongong was 12 cents cheaper at $1.46.1, while at Albion Park fuel prices had been as low as $1.37. 

Fuel was actually cheaper in Moruya than Nowra and only one cent dearer in Bega.

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