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G. J. Lindsay, “Petrol pump politics,” The Australian Financial Review, January 19, 1979, p. 4, as a letter to the editor.

SIR, The existence of a petrol station on every corner, each offering full driveway service, used to be cited as one of the more egregious examples of wasteful competition. In recent years, greater price competition and rising costs have led to a reduction in the number of outlets and to the introduction in some cases of self-service stations.

It hardly seems very long ago when our politicians and planners were trying to decide the best way of “rationalising” the number of service stations. Now that the market is doing the job for them, they are displeased. Mr Einfeld seems to find these developments objectionable and wishes to put the clock back. The critics of capitalism are indeed hard to satisfy.

Mr Einfeld gives three reasons for opposing self-serve outlets: doubts about their safety; complaints from consumers who have difficulty operating pumps; and unemployment of proprietors and driveway attendants.

On the first, what evidence is there of lack of safety — particularly when compared with the safety record of traditional outlets? The chimerical scare tactics of such statements are quite clever, but often misleading.

Secondly, those who have difficulty in operating self-serve pumps are hardly compelled to use them. They can always patronise outlets offering full service, which according to the figures given, outnumber self-service outlets by 9:1. There should be no reason why those who can handle pumps and receive a price bonus as well are penalised.

On the third point, if Mr Einfeld and those who think as he does accept the fact that technological developments really create unemployment, then they are denying the facts of economic progress which relies on the more efficient use of human and other resources. Such arguments may have some political significance, but are economic nonsense. The problems lie elsewhere.

Mr Einfeld should remember that he holds the portfolio of Minister for Consumer Affairs and comments such as “self-service petrol stations are not in the consumer’s interest” seem to indicate that the consumer’s interest is that which is to be decided by the decree of his department. Can we be sure that he and his mandarins could be so wise? Perhaps they feel that the consumer’s interest is really best served when there is nothing for the consumer to consume.

The Centre for Independent Studies,
Turramurra, NSW.