Monday, 14 September 2015
On 17 August I spoke in the Federation Chamber about the activities of the Uber service and the concerns of taxicab owners and drivers about this service, which they categorised as unregulated, virtually unsupervised and, frankly, illegal. It is fair to say that I have received a fairly strong response from Uber, Uber drivers and their supporters, which was, as you would probably appreciate, fairly negative. However, I have been overwhelmed by the flood of support around the country for those who drive and own taxis and support taxi services. On 3 September this year I had a very intense meeting with representatives from the Victorian taxi industry, led by Sandy Spanos, President of the Victorian Taxi and Hire Car Families association, and Mr Jacob Revzin, Vice President of the Victoria United Taxi Industry. They and others who attended the meeting, including an ex-Uber driver, raised their concerns about Uber and called for the Uber app to be banned in Australia, as it has been in France, Spain and two cities in India.
After some initial support around the world for the concept of Uber, we have seen protests against this service in Germany, India, Spain, Colombia, France, Italy, China, England, the US and now Australia. Residents and local taxi drivers have become increasingly concerned with Uber's illegal operations as well as reports of incidents involving Uber drivers. Taxi industry representatives tell me bluntly that they have no problem with Uber providing a taxi service in Australia provided that they play by the same rules and abide by Australian laws. But their view is that they are not abiding by these laws, and accordingly they have called for the uberX application to be banned in Australia.
Sandy Spanos, President of Victorian Taxi and Hire Car Families, is extremely concerned about Uber—concerned to the point of damaging her physical and mental health. Sandy's story is that she has abided by Australian laws and paid taxes, yet she sees an unregulated competitor, Uber, which she and many others who have contacted me from around the country see running its service outside Australian laws and regulations in an illegal manner. Ms Spanos has invested heavily in her taxis and has planned on this investment funding her retirement. But with the rise of Uber—which exists outside the laws, as I said—she has seen her investments in her taxis become virtually worthless.
Ms Spanos states that taxi drivers across Australia have to pay licence fees of up to $24,000, pay full taxi insurance of $5,000, pay for work cover, pay GAP insurance, pay full taxi registration of about $2,700, pay for vehicle signage, pay for taxi cameras, collect GST and submit BASs, when Uber drivers do not incur any of these expenses and other things that are required for taxi drivers. It obviously requires a lot of money to run a taxi service. Uber drivers are not subjected to the same costs as taxi drivers, who are now, as a consequence of this unregulated competitor, running at a loss. It is not a fair playing field. They cannot compete with a company when it is existing outside the rules.
The representatives from Victorian Taxi and Hire Car Families have also noted—and this was particularly striking in the representations they made to me—that many taxi drivers come from our migrant communities. Disappointingly, they have lost faith in state and federal governments, which have not, in their words, cracked down on Uber. In some cases, I am told, taxi drivers in their despair have taken their own lives because of this situation. Others, due to the stress that they have suffered, have experienced depression and other serious medical conditions.
This is an extremely unfortunate situation. We as governments and members of parliament need to listen to the concerns raised by the Australian taxi industry and appreciate the pressures on taxi owners and drivers at present. The representatives from Victorian Taxi and Hire Car Families are calling for action to be taken quickly to bring Uber to account. I heard of incident after incident. Person after person, literally across the country, raised their concerns about Uber. I do not understand, given that they have been taken to court, their status and the fact that they do not pay tax. There is a view that they should be taxed. For example, the Australian Taxation Office has investigated them and has been taken to court, so there cannot be a proper investigation as to whether or not they should pay GST.
This is a ridiculous situation. There cannot be two laws in this country, one for taxi drivers and one for everyone else. That is not the way that a democracy is supposed to exist. We have to fix this situation. We all have to work together so that Uber is actually lawfully run in this country.