TRANSPORT LEGISLATION AMENDMENT (FOUNDATION TAXI AND HIRE CAR REFORMS) BILL 2013

Ms GRALEY (Narre Warren South) — It is a pleasure to rise to speak in the debate on the Transport Legislation Amendment (Foundation Taxi and Hire Car Reforms) Bill 2013. From the number of commendations the member for Seymour gave the minister at the table, the Minister for Public Transport, you would think that this was an absolutely
fantastic, good news bill for the people of Victoria and people in  the taxi industry. But we all know the minister is not a first-class general; he is but a foot soldier in this
government.

Many people who have come to my office to see me are very upset about this bill. Members on the opposite side of the house have spoken today of the people who have been complaining to us about the situation as being privileged and have said they should have to put up with market forces, as though this government has had nothing to do with creating the predicament caused by and the problems associated with this bill.

The people who have been coming to see me in my electorate office are hardworking, good
people who have saved hard to buy their way into the taxi industry so they can look after their families, send them to good schools, have a holiday occasionally and basically work very hard so that they can retire. Many of them thought they had worked hard enough that they could retire without having to be dependent upon the government.

The fact is that many people who have come to see me have not been able to get a hearing with this government or with government members of Parliament. In fact many government members have told members of the taxi community that they have not made their minds up about the bill. Many people on the other side of this chamber are sitting on the fence because they are reluctant participants in the Minister for Public Transport’s army on this issue. My response to the people who come to see me is that this is a
government agenda. This is something that the government is doing to alter their situation and their status within the taxi industry. I have advised them to speak to their local Liberal upper house members especially.

I told them that processes would be available to them where they would be able to have input into the discussions, but the government has rolled out this bill without adequate conversations being had with the people who are going to be very badly affected if this bill passes.

Ms GRALEY— Therefore I encourage members opposite, many of whom have people in their electorates who are just like those in mine. They have come from overseas, from non-English-speaking backgrounds, have worked hard and ploughed their hearts into their taxi businesses and are now feeling very upset and very disillusioned. I have said to them that I will raise their issues for them. I do not expect much from a government that talks like Milton Friedman half the time about market forces and says that it is the banks’ fault that the value of the licence has been downgraded. But I have said to these people that I am able to raise issues for them in the house.

I am now going to read from correspondence I have received from a number of people in my electorate who I represent. One of them is Resham Singh Sekhon. He said:

I urge you, Minister, to take time to consider the impact the Fels’ recommendations will have on thousands of taxi owners such as me. Purposely reducing the price of a taxi plate is unethical and very un-Australian. This country has a reputation for rewarding hard work and encouraging investments –not for destroying the superannuation and livelihood of hardworking citizens.

I strongly suggest that the advice of the Victorian Taxi Association and Taxi Industry Stakeholders Victoria be taken seriously as they are the voice of all taxi industry participants and have years of experience in the taxi industry.

Then there is Mario De Cinque, who said:

We are not purely investors who have made their money and run. We as a family, stay in the taxi industry because it is our life’s work. We are a family business, who has served the community with integrity for 40 years. We have invested all of our money into this industry. My wife and I are now entering retirement and are proud that we are able to do so without being a burden to the taxpayer. We do not want to rely on the pension and feel that our contribution to the community should not be devalued.

In a letter to me, Charles Harrisson said:

Australia is supposed to be a lucky country?

I came to Australia in 1972 from Egypt with $30 in my pocket as a migrant. I worked hard in a factory for five years while I was studying at night as an electronic design draftsman. I started driving taxis in 1980 part time on weekends and eventually bought a licence in 1986. I sold this licence –the one he bought and used the money to buy a wheelchair-capable taxi which I still drive.

That is a good thing, because a lot of people want to catch disability and wheelchair appropriate taxis. He goes on to say:

It also supplies work for two part-time drivers. If the taxi inquiry report recommendations on unlimited taxi licences and hire car licences are accepted, then I can see my
retirement plans ruined after so much hard work. However, the government stands to make a lot of money through lease of taxi licences and sale of hire cars.

Perhaps Australia is a lucky country for those who make the rules — that is, the government.

Here I have a letter from Hardeep Singh Sandhu, which says in part:

Since this taxi inquiry started I have been very concerned that the inquiry would do the right thing for the customers without destroying the licence owners who are the heart and soul of the Victorian taxiindustry. So now that the final report has been released I am absolutely gutted. My future is now at risk. I still owe over $250 000 on my loan and am worried that I will lose my home. I worked for all those years to educate and provide
for my daughters.

I feel cheated. It is absolutely un-Australian that we will lose our asset that we worked for. We did nothing illegal, we went through the appropriate channels with the VTD. How can this be fair? We came to Australia, a ‘fair go’ Australia. One of the fairest countries on the world. We are proud to come here to build a life through hard work, ‘like the Aussie battler’. Now we feel absolutely cheated.

And Bryan Darby said:

As a member of the Victorian taxi industry for well over 20 years I feel that this reform, if accepted in full, will cause severe hardship for not only my family but for all families in the taxi industry. I think it is unfair to devalue someone’s assets and it makes me feel sick to
think that, at this point in my life, everything I have worked for will be worth nothing.

In a letter to me, Tissa Wijayakumara said:

In 2006, I took out a bank loan of $390 000 and put my house up as security against the loan. I have continued to drive full time with Dandenong Taxis. I work six days a week to provide for my wife and three kids, and make my repayments. So today I still owe $332 000 on my loan. I hope that the government makes the right decision and looks after its people. We can make improvements to the taxi industry without causing suffering to the people who are the industry.

We have before us a reasoned amendment moved by the opposition. People are very upset. They are fearful and frightened for their future. They are disillusioned with a government that has not listened to their concerns and with members opposite who pretend to listen and then go and sit on the fence.

Many times people have cried out for help, and there have been some tears. People are very worried about their futures. A simple way out of the difficult situation that the government has created for itself would be for it to support the reasoned amendment.

I will read what Antonina has to say:

We have always abided by the rules set out by the government (Victorian Taxi Directorate) and have achieved the success we have due to a lot of hard work, sacrifice and determination.

Now in our retirement years, we are faced with that all being taken away from us. If the recommendations are implemented in full, not only will the value of our licences continue to plummet, but we will also lose a big chunk of our yearly income from the leases as they will be extremely reduced. My husband and I ask that you do not take away what we have worked so hard for.

These are not privileged people; they are hard workers, they are the battlers. The minister should implement the recommendations that will benefit the industry as a whole and not the ones that will surely destroy it and those who are dedicated to it. The first-class
general is in the room; I am sure he would like to support the reasoned amendment!