Point to Point Transport (Taxi and Hire Vehicles) Bill 2016
I speak on the Point to Point Transport (Taxi and Hire Vehicles) Bill 2016. I commence by acknowledging the taxi service providers in my electorate who have discussed with me the issues they are having as a result of the disruption they are suffering in this brave new world. I acknowledge Mr Roy Wakelin-King in the gallery. I have known him for a number of years from my time working in the transport industry. Some months ago I met him and Mr Emery, Chief Executive Officer of Central Coast Taxis, with the member for Wyong, my predecessor in the small business portfolio. I spoke to Mr Wakelin-King last night. He has been an advocate for the many small businesses in this space.
I worked in the transport industry for 17 years prior to my entry to this place and have a very good understanding of Transport for NSW and the challenges that operators have faced with emerging technologies and consumer behaviours that are changing quickly in transport. The single most important issue in transport is safety. Under the former Labor Government, my own company worked through the implementation of one of the most comprehensive safety management systems in Australia, which put the onus on operators to keep their heavy vehicles safe and compliant and ensure that their drivers were safe and caring properly for passengers. Under Labor, New South Wales was seen as raising the bar on safety in public transport in respect of vehicles for passengers and the wider road-using community. Employee records, which is the most important aspect of ensuring employees are paid properly, were implemented and comprehensive.
These changes were very important for the viability of public transport in our State to ensure that public transport, which is such a core tool for reducing congestion, was able to continue to operate efficiently and effectively on a statewide level. They were difficult times and changes for operators and their staff but they were done with transparency, clarity, and communication with the sector. Labor takes very seriously its obligations to protect the safety of all road users and passengers and to ensure drivers are paid properly. Now we see another area of significant change in the transport industry—point to point transport. The taxis and hire cars that provide the links between mass transit systems of ferries, trains and buses are undergoing fundamental changes.
Earlier this month I heard Gary Ellem, a thought leader at the University of Newcastle, talk about transport and the opportunities and challenges of emerging technologies in this area. I have to say it was seriously mind blowing. The opportunities of technology in the field of transport will transform the way we move around our communities. The ability of computers to change point to point technology systems will change not just taxis but into the future there will be significant changes to group point to point travel, that is ,buses.
And then there are the driverless cars. I spoke to Gary about this issue, because in a region like mine with such high unemployment relative to the rest of the State for such a long time under this Government, and with such a reliance on heavy vehicle drivers in our economy, I wanted to know how I would be able to ensure that jobs would still be available for members of our community in such an environment. Gary was very positive about the opportunities for employment. He talked about how seriously growing public transport in our community would enable us to come to a point where public transport was frequent enough, cost efficient enough and better for people to the extent that they might make a permanent move away from cars.
In the short term, that would create much more work for bus drivers. In the final analysis, if we did go to driverless cars then we would still need to have the car equivalent of a flight simulator to take over in the event of breakdowns, accidents or other emergencies, or we might have a return to people being employed to provide the safety, security and social interactions that drivers provide in vehicles. There might be conductors or security guards, and with more reliable and accessible public transport there might even be carers for people with disability.
These are all amazing opportunities for the community but they require us to grapple with enormous challenges and risks to small businesses and government, and they are raised in the bill that we are debating today. How will we provide a level playing field for taxis, hire cars and Uber drivers when it comes to compulsory third party insurance green slips? How will we ensure that women, people with disability, young people and other vulnerable members of our community are not exposed to safety issues when they travel as passengers? When the Government is no longer going to authorise drivers of vehicles under the Roads and Maritime Services what will this do for passenger safety? Drivers will have to undergo criminal background and medical checks, as well as the requirement to have a licence. But how in this new environment will we ensure that there will be centralised agency oversight of the suitability of drivers?
We have seen this happen in other industries. Sometimes consumers need to be protected for their own good. We saw the Government's failure to do this, and its desire to throw up its hands when it cannot get its head around the technology. Indeed, the Government could not work out a way to deal with the burgeoning problem of fraud in the booking of travel arrangements over the internet. Instead of strengthening the protections for consumers and the industry, it dismantled the travel agency compensation fund, leaving consumers totally unprotected and forcing travel agents who paid high interest fees to get into the industry left struggling to pay ongoing exorbitant insurances to provide the same protections to their customers.
In this bill we yet again see the Government letting an international operator with an aggressive policy of non-compliance compete with those mums and dads who year-in, year-out have been providing a service to our community. Where has the Government been in the past 12 months, or indeed the past few years when Uber commenced its operations in Australia? Luckily, it was the Leader of the Opposition, Mr Luke Foley, who had the foresight a year ago to see that consumer behaviour was moving far more quickly than the Government on this issue and called for regulation.
It is such a pity that the Government has not embraced taxi owners in compensation for the risks that this change has placed on their small businesses. The compensation package is not adequate for those taxi drivers who paid a small fortune, and it was all they had, to buy themselves a job just to try to provide a service to our community.
Only now, on the one-year anniversary of the Leader of the Opposition's budget-in-reply speech, do we see the Government coming in with a package that is, frankly, insulting to the many mums and dads who have scrimped and saved to get a taxi plate and then worked their guts out to pay it back and provide for their families.
When I was growing up we lived next door to a taxi-owning family. This family was not rich. They worked hard. They had a large market garden that they spent their waking hours tending to provide food for their family. They supplemented that with the income they got from driving all night in the taxis. They were not rich. They were not entitled. They were not leaners; they were real workers. I saw the struggles and the sacrifices they made to keep their taxis on the road and to provide for the family.
This bill should do more for the mums and dads, not for the investors. These are businesses of mums and dads who did not just make a bad investment decision. They worked for hours a day to pay off the job that they had bought for themselves when they bought their taxi plates. They did not just make a bad investment decision. They did not throw their money on a property market which did not appreciate. They did not throw their money on the stock market. Many of them were migrants and they bought jobs for themselves.
I am also concerned about the cherry-picking of routes and event times in regional areas. It is hard enough to run a taxi in a regional area like Maitland. People in Maitland do not have the ability, like people do in Sydney, to walk outside and hail a cab. Operators in Maitland for many times of the day are struggling make an income. The peak events in regional areas provide operators with a little bit of incentive to continue their work.
We also need to look at the fairness of compensation. How can hire car vehicles get a $60,000 compensation package and taxis only get $20,000? More importantly, the adjustment package only applies to those who purchased taxi plates after 1 July 2015. Although NSW taxi licence prices have been falling since 2012, when they were selling for well over $400,000, in the past year there have been more than 70 licences sold for between $200,000 and $332,000. Where is the compensation for people who bought at those prices? What about these 70 people—these 70 mums and dads who have purchased taxis? What compensation will they get? Although the bill does not address the amount of compensation, how was the magic figure of $250,000 determined? What modelling was done to find out how much money the consumer levy would raise?
Why are we not looking at an industry assistance package like those for forestry, water, dairy, river red gums and marine industries? Most importantly, why does the Minister have discretion? I acknowledge that there are very large operators in this State who operate taxis but there are also small mum-and-dad organisations—there is a huge gap between the size of the small operators and the large ones. As that is clearly the case we need to ensure that solutions are implemented with transparency and clarity.
The Minister for Transport and Infrastructure has not demonstrated that transparency and clarity in many of his dealings with the community in my electorate. Examine the thought processes of the Minister, who has ripped up a rail line in Newcastle but, 18 months later, has not replaced it with anything. That is the kind of deal the taxi industry will get from this Minister, and it is just not enough.