Commercial Passenger Vehicle Industry Bill 2017
I am very pleased to rise and speak in relation to the Commercial Passenger Vehicle Industry Bill 2017, which is still before the house. The development and passage of this legislation now has a very long history. The government were very slow to get off the mark and introduce this legislation to the other place. The shadow Minister for Public Transport, Mr Hodgett in the other place, has highlighted again and again the way that other jurisdictions have moved in regulating the ridesharing industry and creating a platform from which ridesharing operators, taxis and others can all compete. Unfortunately the Victorian government has been very slow off the mark. I think it is a year since Minister Allan promised that we would have a bill through the house.
Members will recall that on 9 May this year, because of the enormous concern from industry, the community — a range of stakeholders — about the bill that was before us, this bill was referred to a Legislative Council committee, the committee that Mr Finn chairs, the Standing Committee on the Economy and Infrastructure, and the economy and infrastructure committee have reported back to the house. It is a very sensible committee report and makes a number of recommendations. It addresses the issues that are of principal concern to industry and to the stakeholders. Without going through the provisions in specific detail, the bill seeks to impose a new tax, a new levy, in respect of each commercial passenger vehicle service transaction carried out during a return period, including prescribing the amount of the levy — $2 per trip — and who is liable for the levy. The bill also removes annual licence fees for taxicabs and licence fees for hire cars and changes the definition of 'network services' to enable the regulation of all persons who provide commercial passenger vehicle booking services.
As I said in some introductory remarks, we are behind the eight ball in this space. The ridesharing industry has been regulated now in most other states, including Queensland, and that has put the industry on sure footing, enabled investment to take place and created a level playing field for those different operators.
I also want to make a comment at this opening part of debate on the bill — as Ms Crozier did in her contribution on a different bill, but it is still nonetheless relevant to this legislation — about the issue of the carjacking this morning in Ms Crozier's electorate. It was a carjacking of an Uber driver. It is an example of the way that community safety cuts across all parts of government and all parts of society, because whether you are the Uber driver picking up a fare in the Southern Metropolitan Region or whether you are a shopkeeper or a resident in that area, that sort of violent crime, that sort of incident, has a lasting impact. So while we are here tonight to talk about regulating this industry, providing a framework for this industry and how to compensate taxi licence holders and the mechanisms for that compensation, it is important to acknowledge that horrific event that took place this morning and the impact that must have had on that driver today. Our thoughts are with him.
There are a number of threshold issues in this bill that need to be discussed. The $2 levy per trip has been an issue of consternation for many people, and under the stewardship of Mr Finn the Standing Committee on the Economy and Infrastructure made note of this and reference to this. I think through the transcripts and through representations from individuals — licence-holders and the like — we can see that although the $2 levy on its face does not look like an enormous amount, if you happen to be someone on a fixed income who does not drive and requires transportation by taxi on a regular basis for relatively short trips, a $2 impost on each trip can add up to quite a significant percentage of the total cost and can add up to quite a significant cost in and of itself. I note that there are amendments that have been flagged to reduce that levy to $1. The opposition would welcome that levy reduction, but fundamentally we have an issue with the imposition of the levy itself.
We see a government awash with money. In fact we have spent a significant proportion of this sitting week debating the introduction of new taxes by this government, new taxes that have been passed in this place by the Labor government, by Daniel Andrews. I know the issue has been ventilated quite significantly this sitting week already, but let me do it again. This is despite the clear and unequivocal promise of the Premier that there would be no new taxes. He made that promise to every single Victorian. This week that promise has been broken again with the passage of the State Taxation Acts Amendment Bill 2017 that went through this place earlier this week, and today we have the government seeking to impose a new $2 tax on pensioners, on people on fixed incomes and on people with disabilities who rely on taxis.
One of the issues that the coalition has with the imposition of this new tax is that it applies in country Victoria as well. In country Victoria Uber services are often much less available or they are non-existent. What this bill is contemplating, what the city-centric Andrews government is proposing, is that people living in rural and regional Victoria, where they have no access to Uber, have to pay extra for the service they currently have, with no change in service and for no better outcome. That does not seem to make a great deal of sense to me.
Mr O'Sullivan — Short trips.
Mr O'DONOHUE — Mr O'Sullivan mentions the issue of short trips, which I did touch on previously. If you are on a fixed income and going to the doctor — a $9 dollar fare down the road and a $9 dollar fare back — and you have to do that two or three days a week, when you throw an extra $2 on top, that starts to add up very quickly both in percentage terms and in absolute dollars.
I turn to the recommendations of Mr Finn's committee, and I think it is worth reading into Hansarda part of Mr Finn's foreword. He says:
There is no question that the government's proposed Commercial Passenger Vehicle Industry Bill 2017 requires a number of amendments to reflect the reality of the plight of taxi licence holders in Victoria and the compensation that is owed them.
Effectively licences that were purchased at a high price from government as a capital asset the government proposes to reduce in value to zero. This is devastating for many working men and women who have dedicated their lives to the commercial passenger vehicle industry.
I think it is very important to note that under the chairmanship of Mr Finn there was a unanimous report from the committee with the support of the government members. We are not just talking about the coalition members of the committee endorsing these recommendations under Mr Finn's chairmanship; we are talking about the government members signing up to and endorsing these recommendations. That is the true essence of what these parliamentary committees — the legislation committees, the reference committees — of the Council are designed to do. They cut through the politics and find the solutions. I commend the committee for having achieved that. Mr Finn goes on to say:
The committee hope that this report and its recommendations, if accepted and acted on, go some way to establishing a fairer and smoother transition for taxi licence holders to the new ridesharing economy.
I hope that the recommendations suggested by the committee lead to robust debate and thus to a more workable, fair and transparent bill for this industry.
There is no doubt we are going to have robust debate about it, but I am not quite sure whether we will get the outcomes that perhaps the committee was looking for.
I just note that Mr Leane and the Deputy President — who is the deputy chair of this committee — were endorsing these recommendations along with Mr Elasmar, Mr Bourman, Ms Dunn and Ms Hartland from the Greens, and Mr Melhem. So a wide cross-section of the house signed up to these recommendations without a minority report — without dissent. It says a great deal about the committee and the way it was able to operate.
We have the issue of the $2 tax, the cap on the Fairness Fund and the proper valuation methodology and process, and those issues have been addressed by the committee. The government has tabled its response to the committee's report. At page 1 of its response, the government says:
… the government is unable to accept in full all the report's recommendations.
That is disappointing. In relation to the committee's finding 1 — that estimates of the revenue from the $2 levy are based on data from existing taxi trips and will likely underestimate the total revenue — the government response says:
It should be noted that the Opposition or any member of Parliament can support the legislation and commit to lowering or removing the levy at any time using this legislation. They would just need to explain how they would fund financial assistance.
Here is a tip for the members of the government who signed off on this report: the Legislative Council cannot move money bills. It cannot originate money bills. So perhaps the drafters of these recommendations from the government should understand how the Parliament works as a first step and understand the powers of the Legislative Council. Yes, we can introduce bills and we can introduce amendments, but it is the Assembly that must introduce the money bills.
Honourable members interjecting.
Mr O'DONOHUE — My restraint is being tested by the interjections. Let me take up the interjections from members opposite. The government is in such an absolute shambles that we have the Minister for Public Transport, Minister Allan, trying to negotiate a deal with Mr Hodgett in the other place an hour ago or 2 hours ago, when this bill has been in the Parliament for months and months. These issues have been crystal clear for months and months. Queensland has legislated, a range of other states have legislated, and we have Minister Allan on the phone to Mr Hodgett trying to cut a deal after this bill has been kicking around the Parliament for months and months. What an absolute shambles.
I welcome any feedback from the government, any interjections from the government members, who have sold out the taxi licence holders and turned their back on those families who have been pleading with them for some reasonable action. So please keep coming with the interjections. This government is in an absolute shambles. It talks a big game on embracing the new economy — —
Honourable members interjecting.
Mr O'DONOHUE — Yet again we see members of the government failing to understand that they have been on the Treasury bench for more than two and a half years.
Ms Mikakos interjected.
Mr O'DONOHUE — I take up the minister's interjection. I am talking about the bill in front of this place, which has been sitting on the notice paper for a long time, and we have the transport minister trying to negotiate at the last minute with Mr Hodgett. Fortunately Mr Hodgett is more sensible than that and he is going to look in a sober and clear way at any proposal that the government wishes to put forward.
But again I make the point that under Mr Finn's chairmanship there was a very sensible set of recommendations. I am up to recommendation 1, and I propose to go through the recommendations and the government's response so that the house is fully informed of where we sit. There is a very sensible set of recommendations endorsed by government members and endorsed by the Deputy President of this place, no less, the deputy chair of the committee. And we have the minister talking about conflict in the party room. When we have the minister with a different position to three government members in this place, including the Deputy President, I know where the conflict lies. It is not in the coalition party room, it is in the Labor caucus room. But I do not want to digress, because this is a very important issue.
I was making the observation that the drafters of this government response and cabinet members who signed off on it do not understand that the Legislative Council does not have the power to generate money bills. I also make the point that the government is saying, 'The levy can be removed at any time, and that's all fine'. I think they said that about payroll tax as well. The government that introduced payroll tax all those decades ago said, 'It'll be temporary. It'll be gone after a few years'. We know that unless there are very strict and clear boundaries around the introduction of a temporary tax, the likely outcome is that it becomes a permanent tax, so it will become a permanent tax on pensioners who are using taxis to get to medical appointments or people with disabilities who rely on taxis for transportation.