MORE THAN 10 law firms acted for respondents to the competition watchdog’s failed attempt to prosecute petrol stations in the Geelong area for price fixing.
Despite admitting they had phoned other petrol stations in the area to talk about fuel prices, Federal Court Justice Peter Gray dismissed the application after a 31-day hearing.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission alleged on several occasions in 1999 and 2000 the petrol stations had fixed the retail price of unleaded petrol by giving effect to certain “undertakings” or “arrangements”, contravening s 45(2)(a) and (b) of the Trade Practices Act 1974.
However, Justice Gray said although there were a “very great number” of phone calls, between petrol retailers, the admissions and the phone calls were not enough to prove collusion on prices.
“There can be no doubt that a good deal of information about price increases was passed between competitors in the Geelong petrol market, most of it by means of telephone conversations, but this did not amount to the fixing of price,” he said.
“It was more likely to have been the mere passage of such information in the hope that a general price rise could be achieved.
“On occasions, it amounted to urging a decision to increase a price, particularly in the case of what was designated as follow-up or complaint calls, but the fact that these were made is itself inconsistent with the existence of the alleged arrangements or understandings.”
Law firms and solicitors acting for respondents included Arnold Bloch Leibler, Tisher Liner & Co, Alan Williamson, Blake Dawson Waldron, Coulter Roache, Schetzer Brott & Appel, DLA Phillips Fox, Michael J Creelman, Eric Faulkner, Davies Collison Cave, and BJ Fennelly & Associates.
The Australian Government Solicitor acted for the ACCC, which is now likely to face 18 separate orders to pay costs.
Arnold Bloch Leibler’s team, who advised Liberty Petroleum, Australia’s largest supplier of wholesale fuel to distributors and suppliers, was led by head of the trade practices practice, Zaven Mardirossian, assisted by lawyers Caroline Goulden and Matthew Lees.