TRANSPORT AND OTHER LEGISLATION (PERSONALISED TRANSPORT REFORM) AMENDMENT BILL

Extract from Hansard, Wednesday 24 May 2017:

Mr ELMES (Noosa—LNP) (7.40 pm): I rise to speak to the Transport and Other Legislation (Personalised Transport Reform) Amendment Bill. This bill is indicative of the challenges we as law-makers face in the 21st century as technology clashes with tradition and established practices are threatened by the novelty and efficiency of newer processes. That does not mean that newer is necessarily better, but it does mean that newer technologies cannot be ignored as they gain popularity and market share. The older and the newer both have to be accommodated as the balance between them shifts and the effects on established providers become realised. Sometimes, as is the case with ridesharing, it involves utilising technology to provide goods or services outside the rules which have applied to established similar businesses, raising the need for the creation of a new paradigm. That does not mean that we should abandon those who have invested money and their lives in established technologies which have helped to make this state the great place it is to live. Indeed, we have a responsibility to make sure that we support those affected by change to either compete on a level playing field or transition out of the industry on just terms. This bill does neither.

The explanatory notes for the bill set out what would have been an acceptable framework for the development of policy around personalised transport reform. The explanatory notes state—
At a time of significant structural change in this sector, it is important to provide a policy and regulatory framework that acknowledges existing, new and potential industry participants and allows existing businesses to adjust while also accommodating new market entrants.

I agree with that approach. Unfortunately, this bill fails to meet its own basic test for validity and fairness. The simple reality is that ridesharing cannot be ignored and the even simpler truth is that this government has fallen short in its attempt to deal with the issue. It has compounded its short-sightedness by delaying the introduction of this bill, thereby hurting small business owners and drivers throughout the state who were looking for certainty. If the government had used the extra time to consult honestly and to produce a better and fairer piece of legislation then the delay may have been excusable, but it has not and Queenslanders are suffering as a result. This debate is not about big corporations or anonymous larger commercial groups that can channel losses and profits from one entity to another to balance the good and the bad times. It is about individual Queenslanders—individuals who have families, mortgages and staff to support out of earnings from their taxi businesses. These are people who are having a go in the best Australian tradition—people who invested money and taken a chance for a better future based on an existing regime of regulations and safeguards. Then along comes Uber and the Palaszczuk government to trash any hopes these people had for a better future.

Let me give the House an example of a local taxi owner in Noosa who came to see me and laid out the facts and figures of how financially disastrous the actions of this government have been for him. He has made a large investment by leasing a number of taxis in the Noosa area. He has estimated his loss so far this financial year compared to the same period last financial year at $245,531 for his vehicles. That is an ongoing loss of $24,553 per month. If the predictions for increased ridesharing use in the future are true, the situation can only get worse for him. As great as competition is, we cannot turn our backs on those who purchased their licences in good faith. The local owner who spoke to me established his business based on a known business environment and now has had that trashed by this Labor government. He cannot just cancel the lease on any of his taxis because he is locked into long-term commitments which he was able to meet under the pre-existing system. Now he is struggling to break even and we all know what unfortunate circumstances will come about if he cannot, and we cannot forget the drivers he employs. Their earnings have dropped significantly; for the drivers in my area, by around 50 per cent since the introduction of ridesharing. They are struggling to support their families and to meet other financial commitments on reduced earnings.

If this government believes it consulted stakeholders sufficiently on this bill, then it can think again. The biggest single stakeholder in this discussion is the Taxi Council representing the interests of thousands of taxi owners and drivers across the state. Taxi Council of Queensland President Max McBride did not hold back when providing an opinion of how open, transparent and consultative the government had been. He wrote in his own industry journal—

After being promised an independent, evidence-based inquiry and taking the government at its word, industry members were aghast that an Australian government, of any persuasion, could behave in such a deceitful way.

He went on to say— Once again, the government has lied to the Queensland people and has acted to placate Uber, ignoring anything the taxi or limousine industries, disability groups, or even the Rideshare Driver’s Association, has had to say regarding a fair and consistent competitive environment.

They are harsh words which no amount of rhetoric and self-justification from those opposite can wipe out.

The LNP plan to establish an independent personalised transport commissioner will provide a mechanism for outstanding issues to be dealt with. The Taxi Council and operators of ridesharing businesses will have an independent authority with which to raise ongoing issues. All parties will have the level playing field and fair, competitive commercial environment to which they are entitled. The commissioner will also serve as a direct conduit to an LNP government through the transport minister to ensure that issues are dealt with effectively and that Queenslanders can be confident that they have the safest personalised transport system with choice based on fair competition. Whatever financial features the bill might include aimed at bringing personalised passenger transport into the 21st century are buried by the mountain of reactionary, poorly considered aspects which diminish the value of the bill as presented to the House.