SPEAKING ON A BILL | COMMERCIAL PASSENGER VEHICLE INDUSTRY AMENDMENT BILL 2019
Mr Melhem: Lucky I was here. I was not planning to be here. I am going to do some touting.
Mr Finn interjected.
Mr Melhem: Thank you, Mr Finn. I will not be touting for your business at the airport. It would depend on how your tipping is. Today I rise to speak on Mr Barton’s private members bill in relation to touting. I want to commend Mr Barton for bringing this bill to the house, or at least the issue to the attention of the house. Whilst the government will not be supporting this bill in its current form, we are definitely pleased to say that there have been some constructive discussions taking place between the government and Mr Barton in relation to that very issue. There has been a very successful discussion with the minister in relation to the particular issue. We are trying to get a fix to it. Hopefully we will get a fix to it and address that issue. It is an issue which has become really alarming in recent times, where you get out of the airport and you have your hire drivers, licensed ones—who actually work under licence—to pick up passengers with a prebooked arrangement.
Mr Davis interjected.
Mr Melhem: You have got the taxidrivers who actually stand on the rank, and they could be waiting for hours. Mr Gepp: On a point of order, Acting President, for the umpteenth time this year Mr Davis continues to flout the standing orders of this place. He just seems to wander around the place and make comment from wherever he is at any moment in time and act like he owns the joint. He should, if he wants to make any comment, be placed in his seat. I would invite you again—the same thing we did last sitting week, Acting President, when I think you were in the chair—to call Mr Davis to order and suggest that he confines any remarks he may or may not have to when he is in his place.
The ACTING PRESIDENT (Mr Bourman): Thank you for the performance review, Mr Gepp. Mr Davis, could you interject only from your seat.
Mr Melhem: That is the very reason I think Mr Barton’s bill is very timely. That is touting. It is illegal; it should be illegal. So if you want to pick up business and contribute to the debate, you should be in your seat and then you can be recognised. If you want to pick up business from the airport—
Mr Melhem: That is pretty good, Mr Davis. You are sounding like a galah. What is Mr Davis’s title? He is like a budgie. He likes looking at himself in the mirror and saying, ‘Look at me. I can mimic. I can mimic people’. You like the sound of your own voice, don’t you? Mate, don’t let your abilities stand in the way of your—
Mr Davis interjected.
Mr Melhem: I think Mr Davis should withdraw and reflect on his comments.
The ACTING PRESIDENT (Mr Bourman): Am I to take it that is a point of order, Mr Melhem?
Mr Melhem: Yes, I ask him to withdraw.
Mr Davis: On the point of order, Acting President, it is a court finding that he has admitted to eight breaches and been convicted of five matters, and indeed penalties of more than $20 000 have been applied by a court of the land.
The ACTING PRESIDENT (Mr Bourman): Mr Davis, that is great, thank you, but I would rather you just withdraw it rather than debate it.
Mr Davis: But it is a fact, and it is actually on the court record.
The ACTING PRESIDENT (Mr Bourman): Mr Davis, there is a word you used, I believe, that is the crux of the matter.
Mr Davis: Oh, ‘corrupt’. I withdraw that.
Mr Melhem: All right, move on. Chief Justice Davis! Thank God he is not on the bench.
Mr Melhem: I think they have given up. That is why he has been elected the leader. Going back to the bill, it is a very important bill. I am talking about this bill and why it is important and should we actually support it? Unfortunately the way the bill is drafted it could have unintended consequences, so it would need to be redrafted. A commitment was given by the government to look at that very issue and amend existing legislation to address that issue. So, again, I want to congratulate Mr Barton for actually bringing some real issues to this Parliament and addressing them, unlike Mr Davis, who just likes the sound of his voice. So going back to the government’s reform to the car hire industry and the taxi industry in the last few years, there has been a major reform—a major reform which caused some pain. There is no question it did cause some pain in relation to taxidrivers. When Mr Davis was in charge in this place and in government, when they actually put in legislation in relation to hire cars, or Uber, and reformed the taxi industry and taxi licences dropped by some $200 000, Mr Barton, they did not blink. They did not even offer a cent of compensation. They did not offer even an apology: ‘I am sorry all our changes have hurt people’. They did not. At least we have done the right thing. When we made the reforms we recognised that it is a fact of life that Uber, or ridesharing, has become a reality and the floodgate is open. You cannot just shut the gate on that issue. We had to do something. We had to make the hard decisions, which we did. We made some hard decisions, which we did. Let me tell you: some of these decisions were not that popular. I get that. But we had to do something, and also we had to act with some compassion and offer compensation for taxidrivers and hire car drivers. There is an argument about whether the compensation was accurate—
Mr Finn interjected.
Mr Melhem: Well, Mr Finn, you were sitting on that committee.
Mr Finn interjected.
Mr Melhem: You were not listening. Your own government made the changes when you were in government for four years, between 2010 and 2014, and taxi licences dropped by some $200 000. You did not even bother offering a cent—one single cent in compensation. But we did. Some people will argue about whether the compensation went far enough—that is another debate—but we at least offered compensation to people affected. On top of that a further review did take place and another fund was set up with $50 million to look again at some individual cases and hardship areas where further compensation could be made in relation to that. The fact is that now in the hire car and taxi industry there are more people on the road. There are about 6000 taxidrivers operating in the state of Victoria. I think the figure before the reform was about 5000. There has been an increase now in Victoria because a taxi licence costs about $50 a year, and services are getting better. The issue of touting, particularly at the airport, has definitely caused a major problem. It ought to be fixed and the government will fix that. There are a number of issues there because you do not know who you are dealing with. When you get into a licensed hire car or a taxi, you know that certain checks and balances have been put in place. People are checked out—their criminal records—and it is clearly identified that they are operating in accordance with the rules we have in place. Whereas someone can walk in and say, ‘My name is X’ and that person could be anyone. They could have a criminal record and that could lead to some safety concerns. That is particularly so when you have unsuspecting visitors from overseas, like backpackers. They could be offered a discount and then get into a car driven by a person and they do not know who that person might be. It is important to stamp it out and to make sure that only licensed people, only accredited drivers, are able to be at the ranks at airports or take bookings and work at airports and at other public places. Going back to the reform that we made as a government with the levy which was implemented on 1 July 2018 and is collected by the State Revenue Office, that is still ongoing. That will probably not pay for all the costs of the compensation, but it will go a long way. Again, people touting will not be subject to that $1 levy, basically because we do not know who they are. They will be part of the cash economy, probably, and they will not be contributing to that fund. That is another reason why we should stamp that out. I have talked about safety. I think that it is very important. It is another reason why we should stamp that out because, as I said, all taxi and hire car drivers must undergo rigorous background checks, including criminal history, driving and medical checks. Commercial Passenger Vehicles Victoria checks drivers’ names against police data on a weekly basis, so every time these people come in their names are checked to update the data. There are considerations around the Privacy and Data Protection Act 2014 and various other things. There is a code of practice to complement the existing legislative framework. This code of practice is over and above what other states have provided and it acts as guidance for best practice in the industry. The code of practice has been worked on. It is already in place. It was completed in the middle of this year. The other reform which we implemented was in regard to the multipurpose taxi program, to deal with issues with Victorians who have limited mobility. That was one of the highlights of what came out as part of the reforms and the consultation program. The multipurpose taxi program is a service to support Victorians who have limited mobility. It is a critical part of ensuring our transport system is accessible to all. A fair bit of work has been undertaken by the government and the industry to look at the transition from the multipurpose taxi scheme to the NDIS-subsidised scheme. That will be another improvement to the taxi industry, to make sure that people with disability who are on the NDIS are able to utilise that system and get the subsidy they deserve. Some further work in relation to that needs to be finalised with the federal government, to make sure that the NDIS-subsidised scheme is acceptable to transition to. A fair bit of work has taken place between the Victorian government and the Morrison government to make sure we finish up putting the right scheme in place. There is no point in rushing into action to fully implement it until we make sure we have got the right scheme in place. Going back to some of the issues which are currently facing the industry and summing up on what is important, I think we would all agree—
Mr Finn interjected.
Mr Melhem: It is okay. I am summing up. It will only take a few minutes, Mr Finn. It is all right, mate. Calm down. You will still have your chance to have your 10 minutes. In summing up, it is important to look at what reforms we have put in place in the last three years. We have reformed the taxi industry, making sure that the people in the industry who own licences and work in the industry are given fair compensation and making sure that the levy is collected so that we spread the cost across the board. We are making sure that individuals who are doing the touting at the airport, who are not licensed people and who are not collecting the levy do not undermine the system we have put in place. We know that now the community of Victoria are enjoying a better service with the rideshare service. It was only Uber when this was introduced. My understanding is that there are now probably close to half-a-dozen companies in the rideshare industry, so that has really expanded to complement the taxi industry. More individuals are entering the taxi industry because now you do not have to pay half a million dollars-plus to obtain a licence to operate a taxi. You only have to get a decent car, do all the training and have all the checks, including the criminal and safety checks et cetera, and then you are able to operate your own taxi. That is why, as I said earlier, the numbers have jumped to somewhere around 6000 people operating taxis in the state of Victoria. That is good for our community. Victorians now have a choice, from taking a taxi to booking a car online—you cannot say Uber anymore because there are other companies in the rideshare industry—and to the hire cars as well. Doing away with touting at the airport is a vital thing to do. I am sure that with the work the Minister for Public Transport is doing with Mr Barton, amendments will be brought to this house to make sure we amend existing legislation to address that very issue. Finally, I again commend Mr Barton for bringing this to the attention of the house. I have got full confidence that the minister will put together the appropriate package of amendments to existing acts to make sure that we can give full effect to those amendments and make sure that touting becomes an offence in Victoria. With those words, I will leave my contribution at that.