Fuel theft impasse is a crime

Melbourne, 26 June – Victorian motorists are the big losers in an apparent stalemate between Victoria Police and the state’s thieves. 

Fuel station and convenience store operators are losing up to $20 million in revenue each year in Victoria, according to the Australasian Association of Convenience Stores’ State of the Industry Report 2014. This is forcing business closures and eroding competition between large companies like Coles and Woolworths and independent operators, ultimately hurting Victoria’s road users. 

The most scandalous aspect of the situation however is that Victoria Police appears unwilling to do anything about this blatant crime. 

“Pumping fuel into a vehicle and then leaving without payment is theft. Unfortunately, this fact appears to be lost on Victoria Police,” said Victorian Automobile Chamber of Commerce Executive Director, Geoff Gwilym. 

“If a member of the public walks into a service station or convenience store and steals groceries they are committing a crime and it is likely that Victoria Police will attend the scene. If that same person steals fuel and drives off it is unlikely that the crime will be treated with the same seriousness, as Victoria Police now treats fuel theft as a civil matter, placing the burden of reparations back onto business owners.” 

Victoria Police recommends that fuel stations adopt pre-pay systems to address the situation. But there are numerous problems with pre-paying for fuel. Foremost is that consumers do not want it. 

“How can a motorist be expected to accurately gauge the total cost of filling up their fuel tank? If they underpay, that is inconvenient, as that motorist may not have the required amount of fuel for their journey, or will need to make a subsequent purchase. If motorists overpay they are in trouble as it is illegal to refund cash on a credit card,” Mr Gwilym said. 

It is estimated that the cost of implementing pre-pay systems in an average-sized fuel station is $20,000. 

“That may not be a lot of money to Coles and Woolworths but to independent operators that could be crippling. This impost would make it yet harder for them to compete with these big businesses.” 

VACC proposes one way to resolve the fuel theft problem is for Victoria Police to create and operate a website whereby service station operators can input details, including video footage, of fuel theft offences. Victoria Police could then use this evidence to prosecute recidivist fuel thieves. 

VACC has delivered a submission to the Parliament of Victoria’s Law Reform, Road and Community Safety Committee’s Inquiry into Fuel Drive Offs. The closing date for submissions is 17 July.

VACC is Victoria’s peak automotive industry body representing more than 5,000 small business members

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E: ddowsey@vacc.com.au

VACC Executive Director, Geoff Gwilym VACC Executive Director, Geoff Gwilym
VACC Executive Director, Geoff Gwilym, says police must treat fuel theft as a crime, just as they do with other forms of theft