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Fuel prices in?the spotlight

Opinion Piece

The price of petrol moved to the top of the news cycle in the past week in two significant ways.

First there was the BP debacle in which Energy Minister Megan Woods called the company’s New Zealand manager in for a “please explain”. That came after Stuff released an internal email from a regional pricing manager which discussed anti-competitive behaviour.

To stem sale losses at Otaki, where fuel prices were up to 20c a litre higher than nearby Levin, the email said the company was increasing prices in Paraparaumu, Kapiti and Levin, and hoped rivals would follow suit.

After the meeting Woods said this was cynical and described the petrol market as broken. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern joined in saying BP had some explaining to do.

BP’s actions confirmed what many motorists have believed for years; the price of fuel is manipulated and the free market has failed.

Interestingly this comes at a time when the possibility of regional fuel taxes, which Auckland has already decided on with an 11.5 cents a litre impost, has come to the fore.

An amendment to give regional councils this right, introduced by Transport Minister Phil Twyford, is now at the select committee stage. Greater Wellington has already submitted in support of the bill.

It is a prospect for this region too as one way to help fund a necessary boost in road spending, though would need caution as fuel costs have such a huge bearing for the main sectors of the economy, pastoral, horticulture and forestry.

Elsewhere the quashing of rumours about Ardern’s partner Clarke Gayford ended with the Government gaining some sympathy as it moves towards two key events, its first Budget on May 17 and the Northcote by-election on June 9.

With the latter there was good news for National supporters to hear the party had been able to spend only one third of its 2017 election donations, so has plenty in the “pot” for this by-election which it will want to win well.

There were two popular sporting redemptions last week. Lydia Ko won her first LPGA tournament for two years, and the Auckland Blues beat the Waratahs to extend Australia’s losing run against New Zealand teams in Super Rugby to 38.