Mr BARTON (Eastern Metropolitan) (11:42): My question today is for the Attorney, representing the Premier. Today is a sad day. It marks five years since the bill that decimated the taxi and hire car industry was introduced. We were promised a level playing field, but the words were just wind, and the industry was blown away. ‘Greater competition’, they said; our industry went from 15 000 drivers to 120 000 drivers. Ironically, passengers are now paying more than ever, as rideshare surge prices whenever it suits them, and it suits them a lot. Drivers are earning less than ever, fighting for crumbs, a living wage beyond their reach. Owners of perpetual taxi and hire car licences continue to pay debt of hundreds and thousands of dollars for something they no longer own. Families like mine lost businesses, lost their homes and their retirement and their future. So I ask: Premier, the legislation promised a level playing field in the industry; what happened?
Ms SYMES (Northern Victoria—Leader of the Government, Attorney-General, Minister for Emergency Services) (11:43): I thank Mr Barton for his question for the Premier. Your ongoing advocacy in relation to transport matters and in particular taxidrivers is to be commended. I know this is a particular passion of yours, and I will seek further particulars to respond in detail to the question that you have raised.
Mr BARTON (Eastern Metropolitan) (11:44): Thank you, Attorney. The commercial passenger vehicle industry has been in turmoil for almost five years. Wheelchair-accessible taxis—their future now is not known. Last year we passed legislation that means the Essential Services Commission must now consider a Fair Work Commission annual wage review and the commercial viability of operating a taxi licence. What was the Essential Services Commission’s main concern last Friday, when they released it? Opportunities for lowering taxi fares and making drivers the working poor. Our taxidrivers are working for a rate of pay and a set of conditions that most Victorians would not accept. So, Premier, where does the Andrews government see the taxi industry in five years time?
Ms SYMES (Northern Victoria—Leader of the Government, Attorney-General, Minister for Emergency Services) (11:44): Mr Barton has asked for a response from the Premier, and I will pass that on accordingly.
The commercial passenger vehicle reforms and regulations established Australia’s first open and competitive commercial passenger vehicle (CPV) industry. The reforms have helped to revolutionise the way Victorians travel, while supporting those who have been impacted by the transition and the pandemic.
The reforms are a win for passengers, with more cars and drivers on the road and more choices of travel across Victoria. There are 70 per cent more services in large regional cities and over 80 per cent more in Melbourne. More consumer protections are in place to help passengers make informed travel choices. There are also more choices for people who rely on wheelchair accessible services – with more than 200 extra services since the reforms began.
The reforms have delivered the largest transition and support package in Australia. There are now over 85,000 registered commercial passenger vehicles in Victoria and over 115,000 accredited drivers. A $500 million assistance package supported those most impacted by industry transition, including transition assistance payments, the Fairness Fund and rebates to annual and peak service licence holders.
During this time, the Government also cut further costs for industry, including the abolition from October 2017 of annual taxi and hire car fees of up to $23,000 and the reduction of TAC annual premiums for taxis by up to $2,000 per year from 1 July 2018.
Based on advice from the CPV Advisory Panel, the Victorian Government has also invested $22 million towards a range of initiatives to support the industry, vulnerable Victorians who depend on services and drivers who have lost work with a reduction in trips.
The safety of passengers and drivers is our highest priority and we have taken strong action to ensure the commercial passenger vehicle industry provides a safe service to the community. We run stringent background checks before allowing someone to become a commercial passenger vehicle driver, including driving history and criminal record checks.
CPVV has issued a code of practice to help duty holders understand and meet their safety obligations. CPVV is focused on ensuring that the commercial passenger vehicle industry has COVIDsafe processes and practices in place and has provided education and support to industry by developing and establishing model COVIDsafe plans, ensuring compliance with industry-specific cleaning regulations, as well as providing support for broader public health initiatives designed to prevent community transmission of COVID-19.
As we continue to navigate our way out of the COVID-19 pandemic and see people move around in greater numbers, the Victorian Government looks forward to the industry continuing to grow and prosper, responding and adapting to the transport needs of Victorians. The Victorian Government will continue to work closely with industry representatives to ensure fairness, appropriate standards and regulation in this sector.