Drivers in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane punished with spiralling, longer price cycles, data shows

Georgina Noack
The Nightly
3 Min Read
Aussie drivers are being put under the pump, literally, every time they fill up their tanks. Now new data has revealed how the petrol price cycle has spiralled to new extremes across the country.
Aussie drivers are being put under the pump, literally, every time they fill up their tanks. Now new data has revealed how the petrol price cycle has spiralled to new extremes across the country. Credit: Matt Jelonek/The West Australian

It is getting harder for drivers across Australia to avoid a painful pinch at the petrol bowser, according to new figures that show the country’s petrol price cycles have spiralled to new extremes.

Analysis conducted by the NRMA found that motorists are being exposed to higher petrol prices for longer periods — with east coast capitals Sydney, Melbourne, and Brisbane the fluctuating most.

The insurance provider analysed 51 price cycles since January 2019 and found that Sydney motorists have copped some of the highest gross margins — meaning the gap between wholesale and retail price — for regular unleaded petrol on record.

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The final price cycle of 2023, which covered the Christmas and New Year holiday period, saw a record average gross margin of 21.5 cents per litre.

So far in 2024, the average gross margin in Brisbane (23.0 cents per litre) was almost three times higher than the average margin in Perth (8.6 cents per litre).

Melbourne’s average gross margin was more than double that (20.0 cents per litre), with Sydney’s average (19.0 cents per litre) following closely behind.

NRMA spokesperson Peter Khoury said the motorists in Australia’s largest capital cities were being “let down by the chaotic nature of petrol prices”.

He said the fact Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney had consistently outpaced other capital cities since analysis started — often by almost double, at least — highlighted the additional cost of living pressure felt by motorists in those cities.

“The NRMA has been concerned about families and businesses being over-exposed to higher petrol prices and the inflationary impact this has on our economy is clear. It doesn’t have to be this way,” Mr Khoury said.

In 2023, the daily gross margin exceeded 30 cents per litre on 30 occasions — in 2019, that margin climbed above 30 cents on only five occasions. Meanwhile, drivers were treated to a negative gross price margin over 41 days in 2019, but in 2023 the margin dropped into the negative for 13 days.

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Drivers in Australia’s biggest cities are being stung the worst by the spiralling petrol price cycle. Credit: Matt Jelonek/The West Australian

And there was little reprieve for drivers at the bottom of the cycle — when fuel is usually cheaper — because gross margins at the lowest point of the cycle had also spiked.

In February 2023, margins at the bottom of the price cycle dropped below wholesale price to — 1.9 cents per litre. The margin at the bottom of the most recent completed price cycle in March 2024 reached a record 6.5 cents per litre.

Worse than just spiralling to record highs, the petrol price cycles are getting longer, with more time spent at their peaks.

Since January 2019, 51 price cycles fell by only 1.0 cents per litre per day, but rose more than twice as fast, at 2.3 cents per litre.

In Sydney, the average price cycle took 26 days to fall from the top to the bottom before racing back to the top in 12 days.

Mr Khoury said the NRMA had gone to “great lengths” to provide its members and the community the information they need to beat the “increasingly unfair prices”. He said the insurer would be expanding on this work in the coming months.

“From prices going up at more than twice the rate as they fall, to higher gross margins and prices not falling as far as they should at the bottom of the price cycles in our most populated cities — it is clear motorists are being let down by the chaotic nature of petrol prices,” he said.

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