SOUTH-WEST service station operators are fed up with fuel drive-offs.

APCO director Peter Anderson said the penalties imposed to people caught stealing fuel were “pathetic” and in most cases offenders were not forced to pay back operators.

“At the end of the day these people aren’t getting caught,” Mr Anderson said.

“There are no laws to help us because it’s not considered a crime.”

Mr Anderson is desperately seeking a meeting with the state’s Police Minister Lisa Neville.

He said fuel operators were forced to install expensive security systems and investigate incidents, but in most cases there were little consequences for their actions.

“It’s terrible what’s going on and politicians aren’t doing anything about it,” Mr Anderson said.

Mr Anderson wants the government to take immediate action to make it harder for motorists to install stolen numberplates on their vehicle.

“False number plates are a huge issue,” Mr Anderson said.

He said number plates should be installed with one-way screws, making it harder for them to removed or replaced.

Ricky Frost, who owns the Camperdown and Cobden roadhouses, has also had enough.

“It’s happening – on average once a week and it can be anywhere between $40 and $100 a week,” Mr Frost said.

“We’ve had one bloke do it to us four times now and three weeks ago we had three in 24 hours.”

Mr Frost said he had considered a prepay system, but was hesitant.

“We’ve considered it but that wrecks it for the honest people,” he said.

Mr Frost said the number of people stealing fuel had increased in the past five years.

He is frustrated at the lack of penalties imposed for offenders.

“If you come into a service station, fill up with fuel and drive off, you get a slap on the wrist,” Mr Frost said.

In terms of restitution, Mr Frost said operators were rarely paid back by the offender.

Mr Frost said operators were forced to spend thousands of dollars on security in a bid to combat the issue.

Victorian Opposition leader Matthew Guy has proposed tougher penalties for people who steal fuel.

This proposal has the full support of Mr Anderson and Mr Frost.

Mr Guy said fuel theft costs retailers $60 million each year across Australia.

He said in some instances the safety of service station staff was compromised during fuel drive-offs.

“I want a safer Victoria and that means adopting a zero-tolerance approach to crime,” Mr Guy said.

Mr Guy wants to introduce a “zero tolerance” approach to fuel drive-offs.

He said he was concerned a high number of drive-offs were treated as civil matters and all incidents should be treated as a criminal offence.

Shadow Police Minister Edward O’Donohue said it was clear the approach of turning a blind-eye to drive-offs hadn’t worked.

“It’s time to send a clear message of deterrence to those with intent who steal fuel by again treating it as a crime,” Mr O’Donohue said.

Jeff Rogut, chief executive officer or the Australasian Association of Convenience Stores, said fuel drive-offs in Victoria had escalated at an alarming rate in Victoria in recent years.

He said this added cost pressures for businesses and consumers alike.

A spokeswoman for Ms Neville said she would meet with Mr Anderson in the near future.

She said Ms Neville had recently met with two major industry groups and was working closely with Victoria Police on the issue.

Extracted from Armidale Express.