Mr BARTON (Eastern Metropolitan) (09:55): I move:
That the bill be now read a second time.
President, I would like to take the opportunity to introduce to members the reasoning behind my private members bill for an act to amend the Commercial Passenger Vehicle Industry Act 2017 to provide for certain offences, including the offence of touting for a commercial passenger vehicle service.
In my inaugural speech I raised the problem of unintended consequences arising from the deregulation of the taxi and hire car industry.
One of the most frightening of these unintended consequences has been touting.
The second reading speech for the Commercial Passenger Vehicle Industry Amendment Bill 2019 to return the offence of touting.
The Transport (Compliance and Miscellaneous) Act 1983 previously contained offences relating to touting which were removed by the Commercial Passenger Vehicle Industry Amendment (Further Reforms) Act in August 2017.
We lost many regulations with those reforms—regulations and provisions that the taxi and hire car industry had spent years working through to make the industry safe for drivers and their passengers.
Touting is a growing problem in Melbourne, and it’s getting worse each day as those who are now touting grow bolder and others join them, as they grow increasingly frustrated with the financial pressure and the unfairness in the industry and the lack of response from the regulator.
Airport officials are pulling out their hair as an increasing number of drivers appear each day at the airport doors—approaching passengers with the almost whispered ‘Taxi—do you need a taxi?’.
The airport reported counting some 50 drivers touting over a 30-minute period some months ago, and the numbers grow daily.
We now have spotters—men in cheap suits who accost passengers and lead them away to waiting cars for a cut of their cash.
A Current Affair ran a story last week that showed drivers grabbing bags and leading passengers out of the airport precinct and off to cars parked at the nearby McDonald’s. To understand why they needed to go to McDonald’s, it is because they were unlicensed.
It has been reported to Melbourne Airport that these male touts are targeting women and especially young women.
They employ increasingly aggressive behaviour when passengers reject them; the airport is receiving hundreds of complaints from passengers who feel frightened and intimidated.
Even the drivers themselves are embarrassed. They are begging for work. Yes, it is at the moment legal—but is it ethical? Is it right? Is it a good look for Melbourne? Is this the way we want Melbourne to look?
We can see them running from the TV cameras.
Touting involves an uninvited approach offering a service.
These are often cash jobs with no meters turned on, no apps recording the transaction, no record anywhere of the driver or who the passenger is.
The $1 trip levy isn’t being passed on to the State Revenue Office.
I doubt very much this is declared income.
Frustration grows in the industry as the taxi car park at the airport fills and flows each day and drivers playing by the rules watch these touts come and go with paying fares.
Already they have lost out to rideshare—who promised shorter waits and lower fares, though some evidence suggests we now have cut waiting times by only 1 minute and fares may not be consistently cheaper than what they were before.
Those that are touting feel justified.
After all, what they are doing is not illegal, but I would like to remind everybody in this house that it is illegal in every other state.
Yet they are still embarrassed.
The problem is we do not know who these people are that are touting.
They show no identification. Their cars are unmarked.
Are they properly licensed? Are they accredited?
Do they have insurance?
Do they pass the police checks?
Is their vehicle up to required safety standards?
Make no mistake: touting is rank and hail. Rank and hail is when you take a car off the street. We have regulations in Victoria that state that to do rank and hail work you must have a tamper-proof camera in the car. Cars must have GPS fitted, and they must have a fixed meter.
I would be very surprised if any of these touts have any of these installed.
These touts are breaking the law. They are ignoring the rules set by the regulator for rank and hail work. They are ignoring the rules set by the airport to stop touting. In addition they are ignoring the systems in place to make airport jobs fair by avoiding the taxi rank queues.
Yet our regulator turns a blind eye—again.
There are no inspectors at the airport checking that these drivers are legitimate. We have not seen the regulator out at places like the MCG through the finals series or even over at the spring carnival. They are simply missing in action.
They should be checking for cameras or GPS if they are meeting the statutory obligations that are imposed on all passenger commercial vehicles that are doing rank and hail work.
Once again, illegal operators are left to operate unhindered. I have said this previously: those who meet all their statutory and regulatory obligations and that work within the law have a right under law that they will be protected from those who break the law.
I have had reports that some are not accredited—that is no surprise—and that drivers who have been booted from booking service providers have been seen at Melbourne Airport approaching passengers.
Airport security is powerless. The airport rules ban touting, yet security can only move people on. This also means that Victoria Police and the Australian Federal Police have their hands tied behind their backs because there is no legislation or regulation for them to act.
I have been approached members of Victoria Police who operate at Melbourne Airport, working with the airport security trying to move these people on.
The police were dismayed when touting offences were removed from the act. They understand best the dangers of allowing people to get into cars with strangers.
They have expressed their frustration and their fears of the escalation and boldness of touts.
Every other state in Australia has addressed the issue of touting.
It is illegal.
During the winter break I spent some time in country Victoria and met Bendigo police who had spent the weekend with the regulator nabbing unlicensed drivers who advertised cash for rides services on social media groups.
Of the 34 individuals spoken to over that Saturday night some 17 fines were issued to the total sum of $34 000—one Saturday night.
These people simply posted on social media groups that they were driving that night. This is electronic touting.
They had no accreditation. They were unknown to the industry regulator. They had no commercial insurance and it is questionable whether their private motor vehicle insurance would cover legitimate rideshare drivers, let alone these cowboys.
It is just a car pulling up outside a country pub late at night and driving off with young girls into the night. We should be very concerned.
In the 1990s we told our kids not to hitchhike anymore. Ivan Milat was proof of point of the dangers of getting into cars with strangers.
In the 2000s we told our kids to be careful of predators grooming youngsters on the internet and to only meet anyone you met online in a very public and safe place.
Now we encourage people to book a stranger on the internet to pick them up in a car and drive them home.
It is a basic lesson in staying safe—do not get into the car with unknown strangers.
In May Minister Pulford responded to one of my many questions about touting in this place, and I have asked and asked again, writing letters and emails to ministers.
Minister Pulford said the regulator would investigate the problem and hold a roundtable discussion with the industry about touting in July and August.
My industry friends tell me that these discussions never happened other than an unsatisfactory discussion at an industry group meeting.
I am advised that the regulator informed the minister that touting was not a problem, just an airport issue. Again the regulator is failing us by allowing unfair and illegal activity to go unquestioned.
The regulator thinks the growth in this industry—that 100 000 drivers scratching for work across the city—is a good outcome and that market forces and competition provide better service for the customers.
I say the regulator has not got it right.
It has allowed the Melbourne market to grow unchecked to unsustainable levels.
It has allowed a gig worker operator to flourish, creating a situation where rideshare companies prey on the vulnerable. These drivers sign up to a rideshare app thinking they have jobs and incomes only to find themselves playing rideshare roulette at the mercy of an international algorithm that games them, sucking them in with work and income in the early months then dumping them in favour of new players as time goes on.
The drivers are not the only ones who have been played off a break.
The regulator has allowed this culture of cheap to spread across Melbourne at the expense of safety.
It has created an environment where predators are able to pick up young women on the streets.
The regulator—the Commercial Passenger Vehicles Victoria group that now works within the Department of Transport—has failed the taxi industry and also the new rideshare industry. In addition it is failing the public, compromising their safety—and to what end?
And meanwhile our regulator has been sitting on their hands watching the growing frustration in the market, at the airport and in the CBD and in our rural and regional areas and at all our major events, while hearing my increasing pleas to take safety seriously. Yet they have done nothing.
So President, I present my bill.
It is a very simple bill. It simply reinstates the offence of touting in Victoria and brings us in line with the rest of the country.
It states that a person must not tout for the provision of a commercial passenger service, make such an offer, solicit custom or induce a person to agree to the provision of a commercial passenger service.
It covers electronic means of advertising a commercial passenger service if you are not an accredited driver or operator to combat the social media cash for rides trend.
It imposes a maximum fine of 50 penalty points, which is around $8000 for breaches of these rules—which is the same as previously.
It will stop touting.
It will be the first step in making our travelling public safer—but make no mistake: we still have a very long way to go to fix this mess. We need to repair the past so the industry can build a safe and sustainable future.
I commend this bill to the house.
Ms STITT (Western Metropolitan) (10:05): I move:
That this matter be adjourned for two weeks.
Motion agreed to and debate adjourned for two weeks.