COMMENT

Having had a bit of a crack at the banks this week, can we see here the new template for dealing with big business?

This banking report appeared to be a reluctant exercise at best.

Driven by the scandal in Australia, some of the more conspiratorially minded added 2 and 2 and got 13, and thought there has to be something to dig up this side of the Tasman. There wasn't, not even close.

Advertisement

This appears to be an age of reports and inquiries and finger pointing and as such, we have become so besotted by the minutiae we forget to hover for a while over the bigger picture, and ask ourselves whether all this endless finger pointing is actually leading anywhere.

This report, at least in part, contained recommendations, not because recommendations were crying out to be put forward, but because if you had a report that said nothing that would be embarrassing.

Further, it was a reflection of the simple reality that if you take any large industry or indeed business and you enter it looking for things to comment on, you will find them.

Short of things being perfect which they never are anywhere, there will always be room for improvement. But banks walk a dreadful line, they're a "can't win" sort of business, no one really loves them, they make too much money, they charge too many fees, but they play a critical role in the economy.

If we can detach ourselves long enough to look at them dispassionately, this part of the world has been well served by them, when over the past decade there's been banking carnage all over the planet post the GFC. Whereas our lot have held firm, stayed profitable, and shown a reassuring level of robustness.

Which brings us nicely to oil, namely petrol, and what I assume is the soon-to-be-launched investigation in that particular industry.

Not unlike the banking report with the RB and the FMA, the newly turboed Commerce Commission will turn its gaze to whether we are being "fleeced" by big oil.

My gut is their report will not be dissimilar to the banks.

Yes they'll find a few rats and mice, yes they'll make some recommendations, and yes the Government will say "they'll be keeping their eye on them" or "they have been warned".

This is the stuff that has to be said because, like the bank report, people have skin in the game and don't want to look like they're commissioning reports for little if any reason, even if they are.

Petrol is a complex business, and the simple summation that we are being "fleeced" is made by a politician looking for a headline, not a realist who understands that, once again if you're looking at this dispassionately, there are reasons for petrol being the price it is.

And one of the major factors is of course tax, which the very government bagging the industry is responsible for.

The Commerce Commission will decide - and this is where these reports and these powers are dangerous - what constitutes a fair margin.

Now who is right? When it comes to "fair", what is fair, and is that not a completely arbitrary concept and a highly individual one?

Like the banks, there's no shortage of competition, there's no shortage of specials of a variety of prices, not just within a city but within a neighbourhood and all within any given day.

There are loyalty promotions, mass marketing, companies that clearly price lower than some others, self-service operators, full-service operators - it looks to be a robust, competitive, and like the banks, a large and disliked industry. It's a grudge purchase.

But that doesn't make them crooks, it doesn't mean they need up-ending and it doesn't mean we need to go around poking and prodding on needless expeditions that produce pages of hot air, a handful of recommendations that lead nowhere tangible or practical and a lot of political spin to justify all the snooping.