I rise to support Mr Tee’s reasoned amendment and also to contribute to debate on the Transport Legislation Amendment (Further Taxi Reform and Other Matters) Bill 2014. Although the bill attempts to reform the taxi industry in this state, the opposition has significant concerns with it. These concerns were addressed in proposed amendments introduced by the opposition in the lower house, but were ultimately defeated by the government. I raise these concerns once again for the benefit of the house and also to highlight the hardship sustained by the current owners of taxi licences.
Over the past 12 months we have heard directly from many people in our electorates — whether they be customers, drivers, owners or people who have had difficulty accessing taxis as a result of a lack of accessible taxis — about the taxi industry. We have heard about the issues for some time directly through our electorate offices.
We have also heard through both the media and representatives of the taxi industry that people will endure significant hardships as a result of many of the proposed reforms. Regardless of this the government has decided to proceed with a bill that does not consider the livelihoods of many people captured under the its framework.
The bill amends the Transport (Compliance and Miscellaneous) Act 1983 and the Transport Legislation Amendment (Foundation Taxi and Hire Car Reforms) Act 2013 to repeal taxi licence-holder accreditation requirements; enable taxi network affiliation requirements to be removed; change compliance and enforcement provisions in relation to entry, search and seizure powers; and require notification and publication of fares and hiring rates.
In 2011 the government announced an independent inquiry of Victoria’s taxi and hire car industry and appointed Professor Allan Fels to oversee it.
In May 2012 a report was released titled Customers First — Service, Safety, Choice. The findings detailed by the report were to embrace competition and move towards self-regulation so as to result in an improvement in the quality of service. More taxi licences together with measured fees would allow drivers to receive more revenue and create an improvement to the service, with more taxis available.
However, the report also recommended that the government support the equity and income of existing licence-holders. The inquiry concluded that there were grounds for targeted assistance to those licence owners who experienced significant financial difficulties due to these reforms.
The report even went so far as to provide examples of the way other jurisdictions have managed relevant reforms. In 2001 the New South Wales government reduced its annual licence fees for car hire by half. A panel was formed to consider the financial impact and recommended that those affected be offered an unrestricted taxi licence in exchange for their car hire licence.
Between 1997 and 1998 the Northern Territory cancelled all taxi licences, which had been trading at around $230 000. Owners of the licences were compensated with a lump sum payment based on market value. Ireland also created a scheme of refunds, changed the taxation treatments of the capital cost of purchasing licences and created a scheme of compassionate payments after its High Court ruled in 2000 that it was illegal to restrict the number of taxi licences.
Prior to the ruling their licences had been worth between $200 000 and $310 000, and then they were reduced to close to zero.
In relation to hardship, it is estimated that the financial loss to be incurred by holders of taxi licences in Victoria will be between $200 000 and $250 000. We have heard the personal stories of people who have significantly invested in licences to support their retirement and livelihood only to learn that their licences have now declined in value by around 50 per cent. People’s houses are being sold, and their financial security for the present and future has been shattered. These realities form the basis of the opposition’s position that the government has failed to consider, listen to and support the members of this industry, and that is the basis upon which Mr Tee moved his reasoned amendment this evening.
In concluding, while competition within the taxi industry and an improvement of services would be welcome, the government has failed to implement a structure that supports existing licence-holders, which will in turn impact on the industry. A framework for financial support was detailed by the inquiry and recommended for the government’s consideration. The licence-holders have rallied outside Parliament House in an attempt to convey the seriousness of their position to the government. The industry group Victorian Taxi Families has indicated through the media that its members are preparing to blockade the CBD. The group acknowledges that this will impact the travelling public but says its members have no other option; they seek consultation on this reform.
In is incredibly unhelpful that in attempting to reform the taxi industry and provide services the Napthine government has in essence caused serious hardship within the industry. That is why I support the reasoned amendment moved by Mr Tee.
He is essentially calling for appropriate consultation with stakeholders because there are so many serious issues connected with this bill. He has called on those consultations to include:
(1) the impact of the proposed price notification scheme on tax operators in cooperatively running network service providers in regional Victoria;
(2) the determination of taxi zones;
(3) wheelchair-accessible taxis;
(4) possible fare increases; and
(5) consumer protections for regional Victorians, particularly in relation to the proposed price notification scheme.
We have serious concerns. This is an extremely important list of issues, which calls for proper consultation with drivers, licence-holders, Victorian consumers and of course the wider taxi industry. Essentially this issue is an important opportunity that cannot and must not be missed by this house.