Entertainment People Garry Linnell: Robbed by two neighbourhood bullies, Shell and Caltex
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Garry Linnell: Robbed by two neighbourhood bullies, Shell and Caltex

Garry Linnell has had enough of bowser bullies. Photo: TND
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Hello? Is this Crime Stoppers? I’d like to report a robbery.

We have a couple of neighbourhood thugs who lurk at the end of one of
our streets.

That’s right. Nasty pieces of work they are, too.

Every day they are out there doing the usual stuff thugs do – preying
on the elderly and taking advantage of the vulnerable.

I vowed I would never let them stand over me. But in a moment of
weakness and desperation last week, I gave in.

I emptied my pockets and surrendered my cash.

You want a description? Sure. One of them goes by the name of Shell
Coles Express.

The other occupies the territory directly opposite on the other side
of the street.

Punk called Caltex Woolworths.

Do you know this corporate citizen?

For years this pair has been running a nice little racket – hiking up
their prices in tandem, often by as much as 35 cents a litre more than
petrol stations 15 minutes away.

They got me last week. In a rush – and with my tank near empty – I
pulled in to the Coles servo.

Unleaded petrol was $1.29 a litre.

Imagine my shock when I peered across the street to discover its Caltex rival (Woolworths sold its
540 convenience stores to the British EG Group a year ago but
maintains its brand association) was also selling fuel for $1.29.

What an incredible coincidence.

And yet, not far away on a busy highway, where four petrol stations in
a one-kilometre stretch battle it out for motorist’s dollars, the
cheapest price was 87 cents a litre.

This tawdry tale of cynical manipulation and blatant exploitation
occurs every day in my neighbourhood on the New South Wales Central Coast.

But it’s also an example repeated endlessly across the nation.

Yes, this sort of price gouging has been going on for decades.

And as the ACCC and other regulatory bodies constantly tell us, there is no law against high prices.

What’s that constant refrain we hear? “Motorists need to be vigilant
and shop around for the best price”.

But what makes the actions of these servos particularly odious is how
they have continued to rip off drivers during the pandemic lockdown
when movement has been restricted and many motorists have little
opportunity to shop around.

What outstanding corporate citizens these companies are.

How quick Coles and Woolworths were to brag about how they opened
their grocery stores for the elderly when stock was low.

Yet they happily consort with petrol giants more than happy to hold to
ransom those same elderly – many of whom have only restricted
licences and are unable to travel further to buy cheaper fuel.

Caltex and Shell, along with the rest of the big oil companies, have
long proffered a series of lame excuses about “geographical issues”
and “competitive pricing techniques” to explain the wide discrepancies
and inconsistencies in petrol pricing in this country.

But there is no disguising the blatant acts of bastardry we’ve seen in
recent weeks.

Across the country there have been endless examples of fuel remaining
expensive despite the recent spectacular drop in crude oil prices.

And yet fuel retailers, who made a record-high $333 million on petrol
products alone two years ago – almost doubling their average per litre
profit – have bemoaned how fewer cars on the roads has led to a 50 per
drop in demand.

This attempt at justifying extortionate prices is as laughable as that
put forward by private road operators like Transurban, which says it
needs to continue hiking tolls because of its commitment to further
road infrastructure projects.

As revealed in The New Daily last week, petrol pricing during the coronavirus crisis is just the latest example of a slew of companies and individuals selling essential items by as much as 10 times their original worth.

Under pressure, sites like Gumtree and eBay have agreed to monitor
sellers of items in short supply like hand sanitisers and face masks
and to ban them if they were profiteering.

The consumer advocacy organisation Choice has also written to the NSW government proposing draft legislation that would penalise those
selling items with a mark-up of more than 120 per cent.

But you can rest assured nothing will change when it comes to petrol
pricing in this country.

Time and again we have seen drops in the price of crude oil and a
failure by retailers to pass on these decreases at the bowser.

The most recent saw metropolitan prices drop to an average of 94.9
cents, while the wholesale fuel price reached the low-80-cents region.

According to modelling by CommSec, this saw the margin for petrol
retailers reach a record high of 24.6 cents per litre.

So let’s dispense with the pretence that petrol companies are doing it
hard like so many other businesses during the pandemic.

It has been business as usual for Australia’s gang of highway robbers.

Garry Linnell was director of News and Current Affairs for the Nine network in the mid-2000s. He has also been editorial director for Fairfax and is a former editor of The Daily Telegraph and The Bulletin magazine