Once again the ACCC is being asked to intervene in the petrol market to prevent 'concentration' of ownership. Reality suggests that such concentration already exists.
Westpac, Commonwealth Bank, ANZ, Abacus (the body representing credit unions and building societies) and the NRMA have all complained to the ACCC about Woolworths plans to introduce a ‘pay at the pump’ option at its service stations. The catch is that only a Woolworths issued credit card (a MasterCard issued by HSBC) will be accepted.
The banks reasons for opposing the Woolworths scheme is that it’s anti competitive and if such exclusive access to pay at the pump facilities were to be allowed (excluding other bank Master and Visa cards), it would create a dangerous precedent.
The NRMA’s primary concern is quite different to that of the banks. Their reason for opposing the scheme is that they believe it would promote the ‘concentration’ of service station ownership. 'Promote concentration’? Perhaps it has escaped the attention of the NRMA, but there already exists a fair ‘concentration’ of service station ownership and this has been allowed to occur under the watch of the ACCC.
While Woolworths and Coles, in concert with Caltex and Shell have been allowed to establish what some would describe as a dominant position in the market, the ACCC’s attention has been diverted elsewhere, namely independent petrol retailers.
The question that should be asked/examined is not whether Woolworths be allowed to have its own pay at the pump card (afterall customers will still be able to pay the usual way at the counter) but rather, how were the likes of Woolworths allowed to establish such market power in the first place?
It is hoped that those opposing Woolworths also realise the irony of the fact that as they appeal to the ACCC to find a solution in their favour, it is the ACCC who have played a not insignificant role in allowing this situation to arise in the first place.