There are two taxi services in Shepparton — Greater Shepparton and Shepparton Taxis — but their service is pivotal to our community.
They serve the most needy in our community, and I have serious concerns about the effect of the $2 levy that is part of this package.
Like many members of this Parliament, I met with Georgia Nicholls from the Victorian Taxi Association to discuss this bill, the way it is going and the likely impacts. Unlike in metropolitan areas, Ms Nicholls informed me that the average fare value in a town like Shepparton is between $7 and $9, and let me just say that the taxidrivers in Shepparton are a truly wonderful group of people. I have a 93-year-old mother who regularly uses the taxi service. These are taxidrivers who will not only pick up people at what is a very low fare — we hear the stories about taxidrivers who will drive off if the fare is too small, but that does not occur in Shepparton — but indeed when they deliver my mother and so many others like her to her door they get out, they assist them, they help them to the door, they help them in with their shopping. It is amazing service. So this is a really important service in our community.
So my concern about the levy is that it will be a really big increase — a very significant increase — in the price of taxi fares in a community like Shepparton and indeed everywhere because it has got to be built in in some way. Even though there is talk that for those people who are currently paying a licence fee of about $11 000 or the like a year they will not have to pay that in the future, and therefore the $2 levy might be absorbed in some way, all the taxidrivers in Shepparton bought their licences some time ago. This is not something that is going to benefit them, so it is a very difficult circumstance for them to face.
I think it is unfair in regional Victoria in particular because of the dynamic. We know that people in regional Victoria are more disadvantaged. We know that they earn lower wages. The two services in Shepparton service primarily the elderly and the disabled, and I think it is fair to say that in a town like Shepparton — I speak often about the train service between Shepparton and Melbourne, and God knows that needs a lot of work done on it — public transport is limited. All country towns have limited public transport, so taxi services are really important. A town like Numurkah has just one taxi. We have a few taxis in Tatura. But these are services that our community could not survive without. The commute between parts of Shepparton, such as Kialla or over to Mooroopna and back to Shepparton, are really difficult. On a Saturday there is one bus that travels from Shepparton back to Mooroopna.
I have said that the taxidrivers in Shepparton purchased their licences at higher rates some time ago, so the difficulties for some of them are that, even with the compensation package, they will possibly be left with a debt. We do not really know how that is going to play out at this stage because we do not really know how the Fairness Fund will work, but I certainly trust and hope that the Fairness Fund will deal with those taxidrivers in my electorate who might be adversely affected by those circumstances.
It does seem to me that in this debate the time for talking is truly over. Uber has been operating in this community for years now and has had a dramatic impact on the taxi industry. The government has been largely unsuccessful in trying to regulate it and it continues to operate illegally. Even legal attempts to try to deal with that have largely failed. So it is an area that has been crying out for change for a long time, and I have to say that, as difficult as this is, I am pleased that something is finally being done about it. I know that the Victorian Taxi Association is also wanting something to happen. It may not be the solution that everybody wants, but if we do not start somewhere, we will be having this discussion in six months or 12 months.
One of the biggest issues for business and particularly for small business is uncertainty about the future, and taxidrivers — all these people here today — have not known for several years what the future holds for them. I believe that certainty is the best result we can deliver to them and that we should be getting on and doing that.
I have seen in my community the fact that in the water industry farmers have no certainty about how much water they will have into the future. There is a Murray-Darling Basin plan that may look to take an additional 450 gigalitres from them. If that happens, their futures are very precarious and some will not survive. So this issue of certainty is just pivotal to people’s lives, to people being able to plan their futures.
As difficult as this bill is — and I have heard the objections people have to it — I nevertheless believe that this is a genuine attempt to try and get something to happen. It is a complex issue. It is a start, and I do not doubt there will be many more amendments required as we go forward. In fact there is a second tranche of amendments, I understand, that are to come later on. As I understand it, this bill has already been referred to a committee, and I do not think there has been any report back on it. That is to the best of my understanding. To put it off further — to send this off to another committee — does nothing to create certainty for taxidrivers or allow them to plan the future of their businesses.
We cannot put our heads in the sand when it comes to new technology. Uber has certainly disrupted the taxi industry, and it has created major issues in the whole rideshare space. I believe that there are many businesses in our community that are now being faced with similar sorts of issues. I think of Airbnb. There are many internet businesses which are absolutely disrupting business as we know it, and it is going to be very difficult for governments to deal with this. We have deregulation. We have globalisation. We have tax avoidance on a grand scale by multinational companies. How do we bring a company like Uber to account? It does seem to me that nobody really has those answers at the moment.
There is a great fear in all of this, as I understand from the Victorian Taxi Association, that while taxidrivers go on obeying the law — as they have been for years — in the face of others not doing so, the risk is that this could even continue. The risk is that Uber will still not obey the new rules that are being delivered by the Parliament, so there is a real need at every level, state and federal, to address what these internet companies are delivering to our communities and what they are doing to our local businesses.
In finalising the comments I am making, I do urge the government to look at the issue of the $2 levy. I think it is very concerning that we will have such an increase in fares across the board and that that will impact on people who are least able to afford it. On the other hand I know that we have to have change. We have to face up to it and we have to deal with it. All the young people I know have the Uber app on their phone. Everyone here knows that, so the challenge is not just something that is arising; it is here. It has been here for years, and it has been illegal. It is time that we grappled with it. It is time that we did something about it. As difficult as this is, I support the position that the Victorian Taxi Association takes in the sense that they are not happy with it. There are a lot of things they would like to see changed, but they do understand that something needs to happen and it needs to happen now. So I support the bill.