The Government's inquiry into petrol pricing is a cynical move that would not make a difference to prices, National Party energy spokesman Gerry Brownlee said today.
Commerce Minister Lianne Dalziel said last night oil companies would have their pricing structures scrutinised by a Government-ordered inquiry.
The move comes after fuel prices reached record highs, sending the price of petrol to more than $2.10 a litre.
Ms Dalziel that she was looking forward to the oil industry explaining to the public, through the inquiry, "why it takes so long for price decreases in crude oil to come through to the New Zealand petrol pump and why it is so quick to get the price increases through".
Mr Brownlee said petrol prices were dependent on the barrel price and the value of the New Zealand dollar.
A bureaucratic exercise would do nothing to bring pump prices down, he said.
She said independent consultants would also examine similarities and differences between fuel markets in New Zealand and Australia, which is about to extend the geographic reach of a scheme requiring oil companies to give motorists advance notice of price rises.
Although it was unclear whether such a scheme would work in New Zealand's smaller market and she was reluctant to raise unrealistic hopes, Ms Dalziel said the chairman of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission had told her in Wellington on Friday that a prototype scheme in Perth was delivering savings of "more than a couple of cents".
That scheme, called Fuelwatch, requires oil companies to post their next day's prices on a website. It will be extended throughout Australia in December.
Ms Dalziel's comments follow a week in which New Zealand motorists were hit with price rises of 10c to 12c a litre for petrol and diesel.
Main-centre prices for 91-octane petrol of 210.9c to 212.9c a litre are 35 per cent higher than this time last year, and diesel has soared about 80 per cent to 183.9c to 185.9c a litre.
Petrol is 22c to 24c a litre more expensive than it was in early May, when the minister held discussions with the Automobile Association over its call for an inquiry into the New Zealand fuel market's pricing structure.
The consultants are expected to take about six weeks to conduct their inquiry under contract to the Ministry of Economic Development.
AA spokesman Mark Stockdale welcomed the Government's decision to commission the inquiry.
He also praised the work of ministry officials with his organisation in considering ways to improve transparency over fuel prices, including turning weekly monitoring into daily reporting schedules.
But he said organisations representing Australian motorists were sceptical about the Fuelwatch scheme, suspecting it of flattening price peaks and troughs to the point of reducing potential savings at the bottom of a weekly cycle not seen in New Zealand.
Caltex spokeswoman Sharon Buckland said debate in Australia was casting strong doubt over the scheme.
But her company would support the greater transparency of more frequent pricing updates by the ministry, as long as it did not have to pay extra compliance costs.
She said it was in the interests of oil companies for the public to be well informed about the industry's pricing structure and the extent to which international cost pressures left them little room to move.
Ms Dalziel said Australian oil companies paid an organisation to collect their price information and publish it within their industry, but the advantage of Fuelwatch was that it put power into the hands of consumers.
She believed it was being resisted by vested interests which did not want "power going back to the people".
Evidence given by the Competition and Consumer Commission to the Australian Senate had scotched the claim of higher prices under the Fuelwatch scheme.
The minister acknowledged that any savings to be gained in NZ were likely to be only "marginal" because of the influence of international oil prices and currency movements.