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Legislation to legalise ride sharing should not be passed until compensation for taxi licence plate holders has been satisfactorily concluded.

Jeff Kennett: Government so wrong on taxi licence compensation

Jeff Kennett, Herald Sun

February 7, 2017 8:30pm

THE State Government soon will introduce legislation to legalise ride sharing by companies such as Uber and its competitors.

I am not opposed to that as long as the legislation demands the same safeguards and requirements for all who provide public transportation in return for a fee.

That said, the legislation should not be passed until compensation for taxi licence plate holders, of whom there are about 3000, has been satisfactorily concluded.

Seventy nine per cent of licences are owned by individuals or families — hardworking people who have operated their small business to provide security and opportunity for their families, as we all do. Many of those people face financial ruin on two fronts.

Their assets are being destroyed, but for many so is their income — a double blow imposed by our Labor government.

When the reforms were announced on August 23 last year, the slogan to pitch the reforms was “no Victorian will be left behind”.

But not only are licence holders being left behind, their years of hard work are being eroded by the stroke of a pen. I have spent many months working with the taxi industry and the government trying to secure a fair outcome. So far we have not been successful.

The State Government soon will introduce legislation to legalise ride sharing by companies such as Uber and its competitors.

Thankfully there are many, on all sides of state and federal parliament, who have joined in a bipartisan way to resolve this issue.

We appeal to the government, to reconsider. I appeal to members of the Victorian Parliament not to pass this legislation until compensation is resolved.

There are many precedents where governments have changed or abolished a system of licences and yet where reasonable to generous compensation has been paid. Why are members of our taxi industry the only ones denied social and economic justice?

When my government removed scallop fishing from Port Phillip Bay, the fishermen were granted fair compensation. In 2016 the federal government compensated Queensland farmers when parcels of groundwater were bought by the government. The current Victorian government paid up to $1bn when it tore up the contract for the East West Freeway.

The handgun buyback in 2004 resulted in $21m being paid in compensation to gun owners.

And the same government that is denying taxi owners fair compensation is paying up to $1.6m to compensate commercial fishermen in Port Phillip Bay because their government licences are being withdrawn.

The government has established a Fairness Fund that met for the first time last week to deal with some of the applications for compensation. But it was a farce. Many questions could not be answered by the chairperson. The representative from the external accounting firm KPMG showed little interest in the taxi owners as they presented their case or asked questions. The third individual has indicated he will not help those taxi licence holders who own their licences in a Trust. Now it is reported KPMG will not present its compensation recommendations until June or July. Yet the government wants to pass its legislation in this parliamentary session.

Premier Daniel Andrews ‘fair is fair’ approach should apply to the taxi licence holders.

That is unacceptable.

To me, the solution is simple.

First, a truly independent body should deal with those people who bought their licences before 1990. They can be dealt with quickly and fairly. All those who purchased their licences after that date should be independently assessed and a settlement agreed. This could be done within two or three months with a bit of effort and goodwill.

Some question my motives in trying to help these people. But I have never owned a taxi licence and am not receiving any payment for trying to get a better outcome for these men and women.

Many of these people are getting on and are not fit enough to drive the cabs themselves; they lease their plates so they can earn a monthly income.

The government’s action has substantially reduced the value of their asset and when it issues new registrations costing about $550 a year per taxi, many will lose those who lease and drive their cabs.

I will continue to try to work with the government to resolve this issue and I will not stop until these men and women get justice.

At a marriage equality festival in June last year, Premier Daniel Andrews said “love is love, fair is fair and equality is not negotiable”.

It was one of the most touching quotes I have heard in a long time. But “fair is fair” should apply to the taxi licence holders and, indeed, equality is not negotiable.

They must also be treated as other licence holders are.

I appeal to the government to act consistently and with compassion and ask non-government MPs not to pass any legislation on this issue until the compensation issue is resolved.

And I appeal to those taxi drivers threatening to block the Bolte Bridge on Monday to hold off until we complete our discussions with the Parliament.

There are other actions we can take that will better focus the attention of the government.

Have a thoughtful day.

Jeff Kennett is a former premier of Victoria