Information collected for ACAPMA’s submission to the Victorian Government’s fuel theft inquiry suggests that the extent of drive-offs has increased three-fold since 2013 – when the Victorian Government announced that this issue was not a matter for police enforcement. In WA, the only other Australian state where fuel theft is also deemed to be a civil matter, the net cost to small and medium petroleum convenience business is now estimated to be around $11,000 per year – a cost that must ultimately be recovered from the vast majority of motorists that are actually doing the right thing by always paying for their fuel.

ACAPMA is currently finalising its submission to the Victorian Government’s Inquiry into Fuel Drive-offs. This work has shown that the average losses suffered by the many small to medium businesses that comprise the fuel retail industry in Victoria has risen to an average of $600 per site per month – which represents a tripling of the average monthly losses observed prior to 2013 (when the Victorian Government publicly announced that fuel theft was a ‘civil matter’ and did not warrant allocation of valuable Police resources).

ACAPMA believes that placing the burden on small to medium businesses to chase down motorists that have stolen fuel, amounts to the State Government ‘washing its hands’ of a problem that ultimately puts upward pressure on fuel prices to consumers. The State’s 1455 fuel outlets have neither the time nor the resources to instigate court action against customers who drive off without paying for their fuel.

“Our submission will demonstrate that the Government’s position appears to have contributed to increasing business losses from petrol drive-offs in Victoria”, said ACAPMA CEO Mark McKenzie.

“It is ironic that, on the one hand, Governments around the country are constantly questioning our industry about the rising price of fuel. Yet, on the other hand, the Victorian (and West Australian) Governments are choosing to ignore an issue that is ultimately putting pressure on fuel retailers to increase fuel prices for the vast majority of motorists who are doing the right thing”, said Mark.

In preparing its submission to the Victorian Inquiry, ACAPMA has been reviewing the problem in those states that apply Police resources to the problem of fuel drive offs – to see if the problem can be solely attributable to the decision of the Victorian Government to require fuel businesses to pursue drive-off matters themselves.

Our research shows that, while there have been some modest increases in other states that largely treat drive-offs as a police matter, the two States that have openly refused to allocate Police resources to fuel theft have seen quantum increases in fuel theft since the respective position of each State Government was publicly announced.

“In Western Australia, we have recently learned that fuel theft now averages $11,000 per year. What many politicians and policy-makers apparently fail to appreciate is that the vast majority of this cost is borne by the many small to medium fuel businesses that comprise the fuel retail sector – not the supposedly ‘rich’ oil and grocery majors”, said Mark.

While ACAPMA accepts that the allocation of scarce police resources to more serious matters such as domestic violence and other heinous crimes is more important, ignoring the growing problem of fuel theft is not a solution either.

ACAPMA believes that both the Victorian and Western Australian Governments have an obligation to work with ACAPMA (and the rest of the industry) to install number plate recognition cameras at all petrol convenience outlets. These cameras would ideally be monitored by administrative resources in the respective Police forces of each state via a centralised facility.

“If a new offence was created under the Motor Traffic Act, then administrative resources in the State’s Police force could issue what amounts to Traffic Infringement Notices, with all revenue collected used to fund the installation of the cameras and fund annual operating costs (at no cost to industry)”, said Mark

While this means that service station operators will likely bear the burden of continued losses in the short term, the almost certainty of prosecution will likely reduce the extent of the problem (and associated business losses) over time – without requiring that these businesses continue to bear the losses and stump-up capital for an issue that is essentially a Police enforcement matter.

“The installation of Police cameras on the forecourt of the Victoria (and Western Australia’s) service stations may also deliver other advantages such as improving the safety of service station employees during late night and early morning hours”, said Mark.

“While there is a need to work through the detail of such a solution, we believe that this solution is worthy of considerable investigation by both the Victorian and Western Australian State Governments”, Mark explained.

ACAPMA welcomes continued feedback from members on this issue. Members wishing to provide input are asked to contact Mark McKenzie on 1300 160 270 or email to markm@acapma.com.au

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