Mr BARTON (Eastern Metropolitan) (15:14): I rise to speak on the Transport Legislation Miscellaneous Amendments Bill 2021. This bill looks to reform a wide range of transportation areas, with a focus on road safety. I will concentrate on what is in my wheelhouse. Road safety is paramount, but so are fairness, workers rights and reducing the risk of exploitation. The premise of recent commercial passenger transportation reforms was to create a level playing field. Looking at the industry today, this has not been achieved. Commercial Passenger Vehicles Victoria (CPVV), the regulator, has failed miserably. We note that the CEO has now resigned, and we see this as a great opportunity where the industry can reset their relationship with the regulator. There is still time to protect the vulnerable, protect workers rights and allow taxidrivers to earn a living wage. I believe we can fix this and we can make it fair.
This bill as it stands is a missed opportunity to make some serious reform. In discussions with Minister Carroll I have moved some of these areas of much-needed reform to both the commercial passenger vehicle advisory panel and the multipurpose taxi program. However, what still needs to be addressed is the financial viability of providing essential taxi services to the community. That is why I propose amendments today. I hope everyone will examine these amendments and understand the position I am coming from. This is about repairing the past and settling a fair and sustainable pathway forward for the future.
My amendments seek to change the way the Essential Services Commission determines the maximum taxi fares. While rideshare companies have been given the flexibility to determine their own fares, resulting in surge pricing, taxidrivers are not given this same luxury. Taxis can only determine a fare below the maximum taxi fare determined by the Essential Services Commission. It has been a long seven years since the last maximum taxi fare increase, which occurred in 2014. The last one before that was in 2008. One fare increase in 13 years? We cannot be serious. These maximum taxi rates are not increased each year in line with the CPI. Given that the industry has experienced only one fare increase since 2008, their income in real terms has been consistently declining.
This amendment asks the Essential Services Commission to consider an accredited driver’s capacity to earn a living wage, as well as the commercial viability of operating a taxi service. Living wage means remuneration that is sufficient for a reasonable standard of living with regard to the cost of essential goods and services. These are some of Victoria’s most essential and vulnerable workers. Many of them are working for half the minimum wage. Taxidrivers get no holiday pay, no sick pay, no superannuation and no carers leave. This is a disgrace in this day and age. Do people think these drivers’ rents do not rise, their cost of living does not increase and the tolls do not go up? The costs of goods and services are increasing, yet these Victorian transport workers have had the same fares for seven years.
Many of you have come to this place from the union movement with the intention of protecting those vulnerable to exploitation. You have fought hard for workers rights and their ability to earn a living wage, but I stand in front of you today and say some have fallen through the cracks. I am asking the government to deliver a pay rise to these people, the first in seven years. The irony is we have recently seen the commercial passenger vehicle service levy increase by 5 per cent in line with the CPI. This is a levy that drivers and vehicle owners pay each time they make a trip. Of course when a fare is being collected by the State Revenue Office they make sure it takes into account inflation. Why are these essential transport workers considered less deserving of proper and fair compensation for their work? Why does the government consider these workers less worthy? This is not fair. We are asking these transport workers to work for a rate of pay and under a set of conditions that most Victorians would not accept. This is a time to fix it.
These amendments propose that the Essential Services Commission should consider a driver’s ability to earn a living wage. This is not controversial. In fact many are surprised this is not a required consideration already. Of course if you are regulating an industry, you should aim to ensure that the system is designed to protect workers, not subject them to ever-increasing expenses with the same income.
My contribution to the road toll inquiry in this past year contributed significantly to my outlook on this bill. Road safety is absolutely an issue. Reforms that seek to reduce the road toll on our roads and reduce the risk of accidents are needed. We know that 10 000 infringements are issued every year for driving unlicensed.
We know that 5000 learner drivers are found driving unaccompanied every year. These drivers pose a real and serious risk to all drivers, passengers, cyclists and pedestrians. I believe we have to do more to support safe driving among our young people.
I also believe that we must hold individuals accountable for their actions. There are holes in this current system. This bill will stop drivers using an interstate licence to escape driving penalties. This makes sense. This bill will also mean that high-speed offenders will no longer be able to hide behind body corporates and avoid licensing sanctions—another sensible reform. When it comes to increasing penalties for wrongdoing, I tend to approach these policies with caution. There is a balance that is required between penalties that are effective deterrents and penalties that can target or disadvantage vulnerable or low socio-economic groups. Increasing penalties for individuals caught without an active licence will hopefully deter adults who choose to risk the lives of others and break the law.
However, I do hold some reservations in regard to increasing court penalties for learner drivers caught driving whilst unsupervised. This bill proposes that the penalty units for such a crime increase from 20 to 60 units with a maximum jail term of six months. I have always viewed jail sentences as a last resort. I feel that, especially in regard to learner drivers who are young people, we should adopt a compassionate, understanding approach with an emphasis on education and support where we can. We know that young people who serve a jail sentence are often from a low socio-economic background. Through our discussions on the Spent Convictions Bill 2020 I learned that 71 per cent of children in custody have a history of trauma, abuse and neglect. These are structural issues. Increasing jail terms on penalties for young people of that age is unlikely to have a deterrent effect. At such a young age perceptions of risk vary greatly. This penalty increases the punishment for those kids who make a mistake. Yes, this is dangerous, but are these penalties really going to address the issue at hand? I hope the government and enforcement agencies consider this in their application of this bill. Finding balance is the key. Prison should always be our last resort.
I have long been pointing to the fact there still exist many cases of unregistered vehicles being used as commercial passenger vehicles. This issue has gone hand in hand with touting. Back in 2020 laws were changed that made online advertising of commercial passenger vehicles which are not registered with the CPVV illegal. However, there has been little enforcement of this legislation, as reports of individuals advertising the service on Airtasker and Gumtree after much lobbying are only just now being enforced. This lack of enforcement for those clearly doing the wrong thing contrasts starkly with those in the industry that are registered, pay the insurance, follow the guidelines and are still being threatened with fines from the regulator. Allowing this to continue absolutely creates an uneven playing field for operators in the industry and creates safety risks for passengers.
Due to a lack of enforcement, I am also aware of individuals using club plates to provide illegal services. Club plates are given to vintage and classic vehicles over 25 years of age. These plates are cheaper and allow the owner to avoid stamp duty. There are over 80 000 red club plated vehicles. To be clear, club plates cannot be registered as a commercial passenger vehicle. For victims of this electronic touting or those who are taken in by this illegal online advertising, they are unaware that these vehicles they are getting into may not be registered and potentially not even insured. It is not a stretch to imagine those who are willing to offer their services without proper registration may also try to save a buck or two and fail to meet their statutory obligations. Introducing an offence for owners of vehicles who knowingly permit an unregistered vehicle to be used to provide a commercial passenger vehicle service is a step in the right direction. However, what will be crucial to the effectiveness of this offence will be enforcement. It is all well and good having the offence there, but the regulator, the CPVV, must be proactive in finding and charging these drivers for breaking the law.
Unregistered vehicles are a safety risk. Passengers who order a taxi, a rideshare or a hire car should have peace of mind that the vehicle they are in is registered and is in a roadworthy condition. However, this cannot currently be assured. Without this confidence the entire industry suffers.
I will be supporting this bill today. However, I do believe that this bill could do better. The future of the transport industry depends on many things. In particular I believe it needs for the government and the regulator to provide a clear direction for commercial passenger vehicle operators and drivers. The industry needs leadership and more regulation that focuses on passenger safety, fairness and sustainable business. We need to ensure that passengers feel safe, drivers and operators can earn a living wage, rideshare drivers have basic workers rights and our most vulnerable are not exploited. I commend this bill to the house, and I would like to circulate my amendments now, please.
Transport Matters Party amendments circulated by Mr BARTON pursuant to standing orders.
See speech here.