The Victorian government has been urged into action by the body representing Australia’s convenience store owners, who say more needs to be done about the “incredibly significant” issue of store robbery and theft.
The Australasian Association of Convenience Stores (AACS) chief executive Jeff Rogut has “outright condemned” the state government over a lack of action around the issue, which he says affects convenience stores such as Caltex and 7/11 every day.
“Every day there is at least one convenience store around the country being robbed,” Rogut told SmartCompany.
“We’re talking to all the state governments and the police because if they don’t take care of the small crimes they will begin to escalate.”
“We can’t wait for a business owner to be murdered for things to change. We need action now.”
Rogut says there are approximately 6,300 convenience stores across Australia, bringing in around $8.3 billion in retail sales each year. Stretching this to include petrol sales, that number jumps to $20 billion, and Rogut believes petrol theft is one of the sector’s biggest issues.
In 2013 the Victorian Police said they would no longer investigate petrol theft, or “drive-offs”, reported News Corp, unless there was a “clear evidence of a criminal offence”. This lead to a reported rise in petrol thefts, which resulted in a Parliamentary inquiry from the Victorian Government on the issue.
The recommendations from that inquiry were released last year, one of which being to have the police “investigate fuel drive‐offs where there is clear evidence of criminality”. In its response, the state government said it supported the recommendation “in full”.
Rogut says petrol thefts are still treated as a civil, not criminal matter in the state, and hopes a reversal of that could be the first step from the government in taking action against convenience store theft and robbery.
“There’s an indication from many state governments that they want to recognise the issue, but the Victorian government has been mostly asleep at the wheel,” he says.
“Petrol theft needs to be regarded as a crime, it’s just common sense and it’s not being treated with the seriousness it needs.”
In a statement to SmartCompany, Victoria Police Detective Inspector Kerin Moloney said armed robberies at convenience stores and retailers continue to be an issue.
“We are working on a range of tactics to not only arrest these offenders, but also prevent these crimes from happening in the first place,” he says.
“In particular, we have been working closely with the relevant associations and individual owners on target hardening measures such as additional security and reinforced glass.”
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These security measures are just some of the things business owners themselves are putting in place to try to stop these robberies, says Rogut, with some businesses spending as much as $30,000 on new security systems. Despite this, the robberies keep happening, he says.
“The deterrent for criminals needs to be there, as right now some of the criminals picked up by the police are just out on the street doing the same thing one day later,” he says.
Small business ombudsman Kate Carnell told SmartCompany she had seen her fair share of robberies whilst running her pharmacy, and strongly reinforced that business owners should never try to “be a hero”.
“Insurance will cover the lost cash or product, but it won’t bring back a life,” she says.
Carnell believes security has long been an issue for small businesses, especially ones open for longer hours, and while a strong relationship with the police is essential, she thinks much of the responsibility falls into the hands of the businesses themselves.
“There’s a level of personal responsibility here, as you’ve got to have the right security systems in place, and accept these things can happen if you’re running a business that trades at longer hours,” Carnell says.
An “open dialogue” between state governments and associations such as the AACS would be welcomed says Carnell, but Rogut is calling for immediate, policy-level action.
“When these incidents happen, it can be incredibly traumatising for the business owners. There needs to be action now,” he says.
SmartCompany contacted Victorian Small Business Minister Philip Dalidakis but he is currently on leave.