Speeches

TAXI AMENDMENT BILL 2016

 

I rise to speak to the Taxi Amendment Bill 2016 on behalf of the Greens. I agree with opposition speakers that these reforms are long overdue and that the government has missed an opportunity to lay the foundation for on-demand and ridesharing transport. The honourable member who spoke just before I did laid out quite specifically that only two or three years ago we consolidated the taxi acts. That was the opportunity that we had to tackle modernisation of the taxi industry. This delay has caused hardship, as has been described by the members who spoke before I did. I understand that these reforms take time and require comprehensive consultation. People would have to have been sitting under a rock to not know that the taxi industry in the city is upset with this government. On several occasions people in that industry have come to Parliament in numbers and rallied to demonstrate their concern about the distress they are facing through the changing times in their industry. For some reason, the important work of modernisation has been put off and now, in the very last weeks of the Parliamentary sitting of this term of government, we have only stage 1 of a two-stage process that we now know will not continue until next year, potentially when a new government has taken office. Is it really so hard? I think it is fair that members thus far have criticised ministers for transport. They certainly could have done better for the taxi industry. As a Green in this place, I do not really understand what the reticence has been to tackle this reform. I hope it has not been due to a perceived idea that the taxi industry is a supporter of one side of politics. I would hope that is not the case. When this bill first came up, it reminded me of when, as a research officer for Hon Jim Scott, we were doing research on the taxi plate reform for peak-period taxis. At that time the Labor government was driving a very important and long-overdue reform and it did not do it very well. It did not do it very quickly and it had troubles with consultation. Even after it was done, adjustments affected peak-period taxi owners. That was some time ago; it goes back to 2003. One would think that through that process, the government would have developed strong consultation systems with the taxi industry. I recall that committees were set up at the time. When the stage 2 bill comes to us and we potentially have Hon Alannah MacTiernan in the chamber with us, I have no doubt that she will be able to relay how difficult it was for the government at that time—I believe she may have been a minister—to achieve that reform. Of course, that depends upon whether she is, indeed, in that position in six months’ time when we see stage 2 of this reform. I really want to express my appreciation for the briefing I received today from the officers. We are dealing with a small bill and it is not very complicated. I support the payment of compensation moneys to taxi plate owners. In Western Australia we do not have a lot of money to share around. The minister has got the taxi industry to agree to allow the funds from the —

Hon Jim Chown: It is TIDA.

Hon LYNN MacLAREN: Yes, the taxi industry development account, which is known by the acronym TIDA. The TIDA funds will be distributed to taxi owners to the extent of $20 000 per plate or group of plates. The moneys in that development account are there for the purpose of developing the industry. There is now $32 million in that fund. When people who are dependent on driving a taxi for their livelihood are struggling at a time of industry change, of course we want to free up those funds to help them. For that reason, I support this part of the Taxi Amendment Bill 2016. I think that this bill has been delayed, as other members have said. It is critical that people get help as soon as possible and, clearly, the funds are earmarked for them. If they agree that that fund is to be wrapped up and paid out to those drivers, it is a good thing and we should be doing it as quickly as possible. Of that, $20 million is earmarked for this transition phase of the modernisation and adjustment of the industry. An amount of $6 million has also been allocated over two years for hardship payments, and I understand $1.5 million will be given to the Small Business Development Corporation to assist the taxi industry to develop innovative solutions to modernise the industry. I understand that if the taxi industry supports this—we know it has paid into that fund so it is appropriate for it to use it in this manner—the remainder will be given to projects that are currently funded by the department. That is it. There is no more money. When stage 2 comes, who knows where the future government will find any additional funds to assuage the concerns of taxidrivers. The government will, basically, have to go to the election with some kind of promise that it will find money somewhere to make it better for these families who have been dependent on the taxi industry for their livelihood. That remains to be played out. We have six months to see that played out, and it is obvious to all who can see and hear that the events of today and the disruption in the transport ministry is playing not a small role in this whole problem. It is a shame we do not have the benefit of another former Minister for Transport Hon Simon O’Brien in here; I know he is away on urgent parliamentary business and we need to deal with a full notice paper, so I understand why he does not want to make any comments, but it would be good to benefit from his experience in that portfolio. I do not want to belabour the point. I want to say that we support moving along. We support stage 1. We would like to have seen stage 2. We support modernisation. I could give members an entire speech on ridesharing and the next stage, which is to deal with on-demand transport, which is where this state should be by now. The rest of Australia seems to have marched ahead on these reforms. It is telling that there have been problems in the ministry and we did not get here sooner. The taxi reforms we would like to see include a new act for on-demand transport and ridesharing. We would like safety and accountability tracked. We passed that bill in 2013 for licensing. How are we going with that? Are we achieving our goals with safety and accountability? It would be good to have an update from the minister about how the taxi industry is going with that and whether any changes are necessary. Conditions for not only ridesharers but also taxidrivers need to be fair and reasonable. Other states have achieved these reforms already, so we should be able to learn from those other states and implement the reforms as soon as possible. Of course, we would like to see the taxi industry establish long-term viability. We saw the evidence that when Uber was introduced into Western Australia, the number of taxi rides increased. Overall, people had more interest in using taxis and Ubers. They did not draw away from the industry; it accelerated it. With other industry players coming on board, such as Shofer, GoCatch and IndiGo, and Hughes expanding its services, it is clear that the transport industry is thriving. We can see that that is a positive thing and that these reforms and modernisation should benefit everyone. Because the government has been so intricately involved in controlling taxi plates, it needs to the make sure that it manages that transition well. Finally, in these new reforms, we should never forget that people with disabilities need access to a reasonable subsidy so that when they take a ride, whether in a taxi or an Uber, they are reasonably compensated. We do not accommodate people with disabilities on public transport. We have a duty to accommodate them in these privately driven cars. In the next tranche of stage 2 reforms, we need to ensure that all those are bundled in so that we can achieve this and move on with other business. My heart goes out to all those people who have invested in plates for their superannuation and retirement funds. It is a time of uncertainty, but they are not alone. People who have invested in property, for example, for their superannuation are also facing uncertainty. I hope they will take some comfort in knowing they are not alone, but in this case, the government is prepared to assist them by providing them with some funds out of the $32 million. Amendments to the bill circulated by the opposition indicate that it wants to establish a taxi plate buyback scheme. That could be of some interest, but I would hesitate to do anything in a rush or without adequate consultation with the people who will be impacted. I am also very concerned about the suggestion that we increase the amount of money given to each taxidriver. The proposed increase is something like $162 000 to each of those people. It would be great to have that money to give to them, but this bill does not state where that money would come from. If we had some certainty about where that additional funding could come from, we might look at supporting those amendments. In the meantime, we know that $32 million can be shared among the affected taxi industry people. That is what this bill does, which is why it has our support.

Authorised by Lynn MacLaren © 2018

Hon Lynn MacLaren MLC - Member for South Metropolitan Region (2009-2017)
Legislative Council, Parliament of Western Australia