Publican sorry for racist sign
Debbie Ovens. Picture: Louise White/Kalgoorlie Miner

A Coolgardie publican who yesterday apologised after she barred service to Aboriginal customers could be in breach of the Racial Discrimination Act.

Denver City Hotel owner Deborah Ovens put a sign in her pub reading "No indigenous person will be served in this hotel" after her iPhone was stolen from the pub on Saturday.

Ms Ovens has since taken down the sign, which said the ban would stay until her mobile phone was returned.

Police Commissioner Karl O'Callaghan said officers visited the Goldfields town yesterday to determine whether the sign constituted racial vilification.

"I haven't had a report back from them yet . . . but the way it's been described to me, it could possibly meet the threshold of racial vilification," he said.

Three local Aboriginals yesterday told of how they were refused service by Ms Ovens after the notice was put on the wall - an experience they labelled "hurtful" and "humiliating".

"I first walked in and asked if I could buy my mother-in-law a six-pack of beer," Coolgardie resident Tiffany Hunter said.

"The lady then asked me if I was part indigenous and I said yes. She refused to serve me. I read the sign and then I just felt disgusted that she would actually put that sign up."

Indigenous leader Ted Wilkes, who was refused service at pubs as a young man, described the incident as a "sad indictment on the psyche of the Australian mainstream population".

Ms Ovens yesterday apologised for the sign, saying it was an "emotional response" to her phone being stolen.

"It was a rash decision and in hindsight it was obviously the wrong thing to do," she said.

"I was just hurt by the situation. I shouldn't have put the poster up having a dig at the community and I do apologise to the Aboriginal community for doing that."

Australia's Race Discrimination Commissioner Tim Soutphommasane said it was unlawful to discriminate on the grounds of race in providing goods and services.

Dr Soutphommasane said Ms Ovens could have breached the Racial Discrimination Act if someone lodged a complaint.

Acting Equal Opportunity Commissioner Allanah Lucas said Ms Ovens' actions could come under the definition of racial discrimination as legislated under the WA Equal Opportunity Act and would be investigated if a complaint was made.

Australian Hotels Association WA chief executive Bradley Woods said any form of discrimination of service based on race was "unacceptable, outrageous and something the hotel industry won't tolerate".

Upset community members Brenda Jilba, Caroline Yarran, Edith Wallam, Racheal Howard, Roberta Phillips and Catherine Howard. Picture: Louise White/Kalgoorlie Miner

The West Australian

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