Mr BARTON (Eastern Metropolitan) (12:20): My question is for Minister Jennings representing the Treasurer. Many times I have shared stories of former taxi licence holders who now struggle under financial pressure to pay down debt on lost licences. Through my talks with the ATO and these individuals, it appears that banks have put a great deal of pressure on recipients of transition payments and Fairness Fund payments to pay down their debts, pushing them to sell their homes to do so. I am advised that at no point did the banks or the Fairness Fund administrators advise these people of the upcoming tax debts on their Fairness Fund payments. In fact the ATO has advised me that fund administrators on the intention of this payment did not consult them. I ask the minister was there any tax advice offered by the Fairness Fund administrators to recipients of these payments?
I asked the Treasurer for information about the intention of taxi and hire car industry fairness fund payments, highlighting the pressure banks put of recipients to pay down loans and the lack of tax advice.
Mr JENNINGS (South Eastern Metropolitan—Leader of the Government, Special Minister of State, Minister for Priority Precincts, Minister for Aboriginal Affairs) (12:21): Thank you, Mr Barton. I would like to perhaps provide a bit more content than I am able to. Probably Mr Quilty did not think I gave him much content in response to his question too, but I did give him a philosophical reckoning.
In relation to your question, I want to appreciate the challenge that those in the taxi industry have been confronted with in the transport reforms that the government embarked upon, and I do not underestimate some of the challenges that have been associated with that transition. As I understand it, nearly 700 people have, for instance, received funding out of the Fairness Fund since it was introduced in 2018 and over $56 million has been allocated to support those who have applied to the Fairness Fund. This is beyond the in excess of $330 million that has been paid in terms of the transition fund across those who had their licensing arrangements changed.
As you know, this has been a very complicated issue for the Parliament to deal with, the community to deal with and the government to deal with. I understand that there may be continual concerns that you have voiced on behalf of those who have either exited or transited within the taxi industry. I think in terms of the tax treatment that you draw attention to that is a totally appropriate issue for the government to be alive to, respond to and provide some degree of certainty and assistance to the tax office in the way in which those matters should be dealt with between those who have transited out of the industry or who have been the beneficiary of those funds.
I am not able to provide you with much information at this point in time. I do not hold that information about what engagement there has been between the Victorian government and the tax office in relation to this. I am very happy to ask the Treasurer to augment my response to you today. I do reiterate the government’s ongoing concern for any of our citizens, particularly those who may have been seen to be doing it tough in relation to the transition from those transport reforms. The very existence of the Fairness Fund was meant to address that and the transition fund was meant to address that in the most efficient and effective way in which it could be done. We should be alive to actively trying to protect the preservation of those funds as much as possible.
Mr BARTON (Eastern Metropolitan) (12:24): This is just another unexpected consequence of these reforms. We are dealing with small business owners here: taxi and hire car drivers, working people, hardworking people. These are not accountants or lawyers, and for many English is not their first language. They had incredible debts on their properties, that they thought would be their nest eggs, their superannuation. So I ask the minister: was there a formal process of deciding on the intent of Fairness Fund payments and the resulting tax implications?
Mr JENNINGS (South Eastern Metropolitan—Leader of the Government, Special Minister of State, Minister for Priority Precincts, Minister for Aboriginal Affairs) (12:25): Again, in the spirit by which I answered the substantive question, I hope, Mr Barton, you know that I recognise the legitimacy of your concern and that of the stakeholders that you are representing in terms of the way in which those payments can be preserved from tax treatments that may have that unintended consequence of diminishing the net value of those payments. I will seek advice from the Treasurer about the way in which that could or should have been done or what may be possible in relation to ongoing discussions with the tax office about the treatment of those matters for the very reasons that you outline. We should minimise the degree of disruption and anxiety or stress that those who have transited out of or had a change in circumstances in the taxi industry may have been confronting up to this very day.