Retail giant Coles is facing accus­ations of racism after an Aborig­inal activist was stopped and told to pre-pay for fuel at a Townsville petrol station, as white customers were allowed to fill up their cars before paying.

Academic and former diplomat Stephen Hagan has launched legal action under the Racial Discrimination Act against Coles Express, a division of Coles that operates 685 Shell service stations across Australia.

The Darwin-based Dr Hagan was in Townsville to attend the Elton John concert on February 29 with wife Rhonda, and at 5.05am on March 1 pulled into the service station in the suburb of Garbutt to fill up his rental car on the way to the airport.

In his claim to the Human Rights Commission, Dr Hagan said he “could not engage the bowser’’ and was then summoned twice over the public address system to go inside the service station.

Dr Hagan said a non-indigenous driver pulled up behind him and was “accessing his bowser without any problems’’.

Inside the service station, Dr Hagan said the attendant rudely instructed him that he had to prepay for his fuel before he could access the bowser.

“I asked the attendant why I had to pay in advance whilst other white drivers – one had just paid and another was in line behind me — weren’t being asked to do the same,” Dr Hagan said.

“My concerns were confirmed when the attendant said he had problems ‘with others doing drive offs without paying’.”

Dr Hagan said his “assertive questioning and vocal public complaint” probably led to the attendant backing down, who then allowed the father of two to fill-up the car before paying.

“I was racially profiled as an aboriginal man who wanted to drive-off without paying,’’ he said.

Dr Hagan said the lawyers for Coles Express have refused to hand-over closed circuit television footage of the incident.

In correspodence to Dr Hagan’s lawyer Steve Kerin, Coles’ legal representatives said an internal investigation had been held into the “unpleasant experience” for the longtime activist.

Cole’s lawyers denied Dr Hagan had been a victim of racism and that the attendant was following company “practice” to request a customer prepay when the driver or licence plate could not been seen.

It claimed the service station had a “high number” of people “drive-off” without paying for fuel.

Through its lawyers, Coles said it was still dark when Dr Hagan drove into the service station and “due to the distance from the CCTV camera” the licence was not visible and attendant could “not clearly see the driver’’.

The attendant requested Dr Hagan come into the store to prepay for his fuel.

“The attendant, having now seen Mr Hagan clearly for the first time, formed the view that it was not necessary for Mr Hagan to prepay…,’’ Coles said through its lawyers.

Coles, through its lawyers, said the car “parked immediately behind Mr Hagan’s vehicle” was positioned closer to the CCTV camera and both licence plate and driver could be seen.

“While Coles acknowledges that your client has, regretfully, had an unpleasant experience when attending the service station, it denies your client was treated unfavourably or in any other way subject to different treatment on the grounds of his race,’’ Dr Hagan’s lawyers were told.

Extracted from The Australian

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