Wednesday 3 September 2008
TAXI AND LUXURY HIRE CAR INDUSTRIES BILL 2008 (No. 44)
Mr FINCH (Rosevears) - Madam President, I first want to thank the Leader for arranging the briefing, which was very fulsome, quite interesting and explained the issues fully. So thanks very much to those who briefed us.
In a State with minimal public transport services, a properly functioning taxi and hire car system is really vital. So I welcome the bill. In reviewing the thrust of the Government's actions, one of the things it does is getting rid of the situation where certain interests had a stranglehold on the taxi industry licences. This frustrated those who wanted to enter the industry and, of course, created a clique of operators who could afford the high prices demanded for existing licences.
This bill also provides the opportunity to maintain the perpetual taxi licences, which was quite an interesting conundrum that had to be worked through, although some could still see that situation as an aberration in the context of the continuing thrust from Federal and State competition policies for a free market policy or economy.
I also note the emphasis on greater opportunities for owner-operators.
Mr FINCH - I haven't even got around to the funny stories yet. You are waiting for the Vietnam stories, are you?
Mr Wilkinson - No, I used to know a fellow by the name of 'Taxi'. They nicknamed him 'Taxi' because whenever he arrived he drove everyone else home.
Mr FINCH - Wait, we might get around to the Vietnam story and our use of taxis there.
I want to talk about the greater emphasis on, and opportunities for, owner-operators; the continuing expansion of wheelchair-accessible taxi services, the WAT taxi services; and also the enhanced powers to take action against operators who are doing the wrong thing. But I note the claim that the bill promotes taxi services to meet the different needs of the groups within our community as well.
This bill starts a process of reform which needs to be continued by the industry itself. One of the core parts of that continuing reform is more flexibility and adaptability and, as we have heard during our briefings, the focus should really be on the clients, the people who are using the taxi services, rather than on the investment opportunities.
But regarding this flexibility and adaptability - not every single taxi passenger needs to sit in the front seat of an otherwise empty taxi.
Resumed from 1pm
Mr FINCH (Rosevears) - Madam President, I was making a reference about not every single taxi passenger wanting to sit in the front seat of a Holden Commodore or a big Ford Falcon and be the only person in that car. We need a range of vehicles in the taxi industry, from people movers down to mini-cars. In fact the question that was asked by the member for Mersey in the briefing was in relation to motorbikes, but I think that her hidden agenda is actually a rickshaw for Devonport.
The industry now has quite a sophisticated computer network booking system which could be made to respond to the individual needs of passengers. If there were a single passenger wanting to make a cross-city journey with no luggage, you send a mini-taxi. If there were a group wanting to be picked up from a social gathering, you send a people mover. So those are the opportunities that now exist with the computer network booking systems available to taxis.
Madam President, in a State with no public transport in some areas, a flexible taxi service has an opportunity to play a greater role in our lives. When you look at the taxi service and transport facilities that are available here compared to other countries, we are somewhat lacking, although I do not think we would be encouraging the situation that we had in Vietnam where we needed transport back from a location, no buses available, no taxis available and we were coerced onto four motorbikes, each with a different rider, none with any helmets and we discovered at the end of the journey that one of the bike riders was 13 years of age.
Mr Hall - That's the one that you were on, was it?
Mr FINCH - No, it was actually the former President. But that is another country and another time.
I support this bill as a first step towards that concept of a fuller public transport role for the taxi industry in Tasmania. I did ask a couple of questions during the briefing which I might explore during the Committee stage of this bill. I think that we ought to put those appeal opportunities on Hansard so that will be available for people to read. If you do not cover that off, Mr Leader, I will question it in Committee.
Mr WING (Launceston) - Madam President, I appreciate the extent of the briefing we had this morning. I found that quite helpful and I think it gave us a good understanding of the philosophy behind this bill.
I must say I have some degree of apprehension about the automatic increase in the number of personal licences to the extent of 5 per cent a year. I am informed that in the Launceston area at the time of the last legislation before this Parliament in about 1998-99 there were 93 taxi licences and that there are now 118. From my observations, I would have thought we have an adequate number of taxi licences in the Launceston area. I know that late at night and particularly at weekends on the George Street rank there is often a delay in getting a taxi but I think that is a peak period. I feel that normally there are sufficient licences at the moment.
When I use taxis I have found them very reliable. If I book them for a certain time they arrive punctually and that does not indicate a shortage in the number of licences. To add 5 per cent a year I feel is likely to be overdoing it, so I do have reservations about that part of the bill.
Mr Finch - Through you, Madam President - on that subject of taxis in Launceston late at night, a lot of young people don't go to the George Street service because they know that there's going to be a wait and it's going to be crowded. They are phoning taxis from their mobile phones and waiting up to 40 to 45 minutes in other parts of the city and getting no response.
Mr WING - I find that contribution helpful and I will listen to further information put before the Council, Madam President, before making up my mind on that subject and any amendments that may be moved.
I have had only one person making representation to me on this bill, which indicates to me a general satisfaction with it. I would have expected that if there were widespread concerns in the industry or any significant concerns I would have heard from more people involved in the industry or interested in this bill. That gives me some sense of comfort in supporting the principle of the bill.
The person who contacted me, apart from indicating the lack of need of a 5 per cent increase in each year, expressed concern about the requirement the taxis should not be older than seven years. That was point that was put to me. Personally, I do not have a problem with that. I think that it is important to have taxis in good condition; even though I am one who likes to keep motor vehicles for a long time, as far as public transport is concerned it is desirable to have them reasonably new.
The other point that the person who approached me made was in connection with the capacity of people holding a WAT licence to also operate as taxis in competition with those who have taxi licences, there being no reciprocal right of holders of taxi licences to operate the wheelchair-type vehicles. I convey those concerns to the House. They are the only ones that I have received and I support the principle of the bill.
Wednesday 3 September 2008
TAXI AND LUXURY HIRE CAR INDUSTRIES BILL 2008 (No. 44)
Committee Stage –
Clause 35 -
(Cancellation of accreditation)
Mr FINCH - I am just going to continue this argument that has been put forward by the member for Launceston because this clause goes to the heart of this appeal situation. This clause provides for the cancellation of the accreditation of the whole of an owner-operator taxi licence, but there is not provision for an appeal to a magistrate about the cancellation.
The cancellation could have a serious financial impact on a person who would not only lose his income but also the benefit from his initial investment by way of tender for the licence. But I want to explore this situation that has been highlighted. I am a little uneasy about the fact that some provision for an appeal is not in this bill. The Leader has pointed to the administration act. What was the act that you pointed to, Leader?
Mr Wing - Administrative Appeals Act.
Mr FINCH - I am wondering whether there is some provision in the legislation relating to taxis, maybe the Passenger Transport Act 1997, the Transport Act 1991, or the Traffic Act 1925, that would cover the situation or whether there should be a provision in this bill. So I am in agreement with the member for Launceston that it is about policy and therefore it should be in this bill.
Mr Parkinson - This act has been operating for a long time. This act brings in the old act.
Mr FINCH - Okay, but is there not an appeal process? This is a new landscape that we are talking about. It is a new bill. We are talking about a situation where people will not have the opportunity to appeal. The advice that I sought -
Mr Parkinson - I think what we are saying is that they will have the opportunity to appeal.
Mr FINCH - Yes, the advice that I sought gave me quite a lot of cases. Should there be the right of appeal against such conditions? Should there be an avenue of appeal by the operator to a magistrate against such conditions? This advice to me is coming from a lawyer who spotted in the bill that there is no avenue for appeal, or not a strong situation in this bill for somebody to have the opportunity to appeal. So I am in agreement with the member for Launceston, even to the extent of maybe having an adjournment to consider this further. I think in clause 35 -
Ms Forrest - If you look at clause 36, it is a similar thing.
Mr FINCH - That is right. In clause '36(2)(b) it says:
'give the holder of the licence a reasonable opportunity to make representations to the Commission regarding the proposed suspension or cancellation'.
But as the member for Nelson was saying, you are appealing to the same person who is going to cancel your licence, so there is no appeal process through the bill by which you can have it listened to by a different body.
Mr Aird - An independent body.
Mr FINCH - An independent body. So the advice that came to me was this concern about the opportunity to appeal.
Mr PARKINSON - The advice remains that one of the reasons that we passed a bill dealing with administrative appeal process was so that you do not have to duplicate the provisions in every bill that comes before the Parliament, so no existing appeal rights are being taken away.
Mr Wilkinson - Can you please tell us which act you are talking because none on the computer is Administrative Appeals Act. That is why I am wondering what it is; to see whether there is this provision within that act.
Mr PARKINSON - Have you checked what the process is in relation to the Administrative Appeals Act? I have not had the time as people have been passing the bill through committee, but you have.
Mr Wilkinson - I am trying to do so, that is what I am saying. As I understand your advice, you said that it was the Administrative Appeals Act and that is what I have been looking for but I cannot find it. That is why I am wondering whether that is the correct title of the act.
Mr PARKINSON - I gave the name that I was advised.
Mr Wilkinson - No, I am not criticising you. I am just trying to find it in that act, because if there is this provision that we are talking about there is no problem, it would seem to me. I am trying to pick up the act, look at the section within that act and therefore we can say this is within the act.
Mr PARKINSON - Do you need time to consider that?
Mr Wilkinson - That is what I am trying to find at the moment, yes.
Progress reported; Committee to sit again.
SUSPENSION OF SITTING
Mr PARKINSON (Hobart - Leader of Government Business in the Legislative Council) - Madam President, I move -
That the sitting be suspended until the ringing of the division bells.
Sitting suspended from 6.13 p.m. to 6.30 p.m.
TAXI AND LUXURY HIRE CAR INDUSTRIES BILL 2008 (No. 44)
Clause 35 -
(Cancellation of accreditation)
Resumed from above
Mr PARKINSON - Mr Chairman, the interlude was useful, so I thank the honourable member for Nelson for that. The appeal provisions that we are referring to are contained in the Judicial Review Act 2000, where section 4 says:
'Meaning of "decision to which this Act applies"
(1) In this Act,
"decision to which this Act applies" means a decision of an administrative character made, proposed to be made, or required to be made, under an enactment (whether or not in the exercise of a discretion).'
That is the main part there.
Mr Wilkinson - Section 17, isn't it?
Mr PARKINSON - Section 17 is the applicable application for review of decision provision. I do not believe I need to read it into Hansard, but section 17 of that act covers the field. As I indicated earlier, the appeal provisions to be made by regulation are a less formal provision, which other honourable members have already pointed out to me. In fact, I think the honourable member for Launceston pointed out to me that paragraph (o) in Schedule 5(1), the regulations, would provide the ability to make those regulations referring to an internal administrative appeal process. Some members have said, 'That is like Caesar appealing to Caesar', and it probably is, but it is meant to cover some of the decisions that may be considered unsatisfactory by people who may wish to have those reviewed. It is an internal, non-judicial way of resolving disputes but it does not prevent people from then still appealing in the normal way.
The honourable member for Launceston has suggested that an appropriate course of action may be for the Government to have discussions with Parliamentary Counsel with a view to making reference in future legislation to the existence of the appeal provisions that apply in the Judicial Review Act 2000. I can certainly indicate that I am prepared to initiate such discussions, to see if it would be appropriate to include a reference in future legislation.
Mr Wing - Thank you.
Mr FINCH - Leader, under the Judicial Review Act, can you give me some idea, please, how that process would take place? Does that come before a separate commission? Is there an opportunity to come before a magistrate?
Mr Parkinson - A magistrate.
Mr FINCH - A magistrate is involved and the case can be put?
Mr Parkinson - It is a court, yes.
Mr Wilkinson - What would occur is that it goes first to the commission if you have a beef. The commission then decides whether that is appropriate or not. If they decide against you, you go to a magistrate in the Magistrates Court arguing one of these points set out in section 17 of the Judicial Review Act.
Mr FINCH - I appreciate that and I am satisfied with that promise by the Leader.
Clause 35 agreed to.
Clauses 36 to 56 agreed to.
Clause 96 -
(Person other than responsible operator must not provide taxi service)
Mr FINCH - It is interesting here:
'A person who is not the responsible operator of a taxi service must not provide or offer to provide a taxi service.'.
I am just wondering whether the provisions of this clause can be used against persons who might share the cost of the vehicle, let us say from Bell Bay, for instance, where there might be a group of workers.
Ms Thorp - Like car pooling.
Mr FINCH - Like car pooling. Do you know what I mean? There might be a car pooling situation where somebody says, 'I will take my car this week and we all chip in $10 for the petrol and the maintenance for my car'. It seems that this section sort of relegates against the Government's espousal of our need for conservation of greenhouse emissions by multiple persons using one vehicle on a journey to a similar destination.
Ms Forrest - Would that be considered a taxi service though?
Ms Thorp - No.
Mr FINCH - Well, that is what I am seeking clarification of: if people are doing that are they acting contrary to what is in this clause 96?
Mr PARKINSON - Car pooling is legal and this provision refers to responsible operators. They are defined in the definition in relation to a taxi licence, meaning the person recorded on the register of licences as the responsible operator of the taxi licence authorised by that licence. So it is creating an offence, basically, where a person makes themselves out to be a responsible operator of a taxi service if they are not the registered responsible operator.
Clause 96 agreed to.
Schedule 3 -
(Reserve prices for owner-operator taxi licences)
Mr FINCH - in this schedule it sets out the reserve prices for owner-operator taxi licences. I wonder if the Leader could share with us what statistical or financial basis was used to calculate the prices. They seem to be interesting figures and I would like to get some indication of how these prices were set. I am assuming these prices are fixed and they cannot be altered except by legislation. A follow-on question to that would be: are these set for review? Does this legislation come up every 10 years and are they reviewed then or will they be reviewed beforehand? I would like some idea, please, as to how the prices were set and when they are likely to be reviewed?
Mr PARKINSON - The amounts are not set for review. They were set by a process of negotiation with the industry. My advice is that the industry wanted the figures to be as high as possible - in other words, they wanted them to be the same as the perpetual licences, for obvious reasons. Initially, the commission's idea was to have them at zero but over a process of consultation and negotiating with the industry these figures were arrived at and they are not set for review.
Mrs JAMIESON - To follow on with that with item (y), where it says 'any other area not included above at a price', presumably, say, somewhere in the Hobart area it would be a $60 000 one; if it was on the west coast it would be a $1 000 fee.
Mr Parkinson - Yes, and the reason for that provision, as indicated in the second reading speech, was to allow for areas such as the Campbell Town area, for example.
Mrs JAMIESON - I do not have a problem with that but I am just presuming that it would be a comparable area, that the price would be comparable if it was in a particular area. For example, if somebody popped up in the Port Sorell area it would be, say, $23 000 because that is the Devonport area.
Mr PARKINSON - I will take some further advice. There are a small number of areas in the State that are not covered by existing taxi areas. Campbell Town apparently is one of them. The rate would be set by reference to the rates around.
Mr FINCH - Just a clarification, Leader, if you would, please. You were saying that these prices were going to start at zero and they have been driven up by the industry representatives to the figures that we see here. Can you just give me a sense of the consultation on the other side, maybe from people who were thinking about purchasing licences. How is the feeling now? In the industry, are they happy where they have been set? You were suggesting they should have been higher. Are other people who might be going into the business happy with the way these prices have been set? Did you suggest that there has been an example of these licences being put on the market and being purchased at these prices? Not yet? Leader, if you could respond to this.
Mr PARKINSON - While you were speaking I was just looking at the clause note that indicates that these lower amounts explicitly recognise that owner-operator licences do not attract the same rights as perpetual licences. Owner-operator licences are not personal property, cannot be leased and can be cancelled without compensation so obviously it is reasonable to expect that they would be at a rate lower than the market rate for perpetual licences. Obviously, market forces will come into play here again but I will just take some further advice.
It is a balanced consideration based on all of the consultations and discussion we had over the period of time. As was said in the second reading speech, I recall, without specifically going back to the words, it is meant to be attractive enough for the genuine prospective purchasers who wish to come in and operate businesses and do not just want to come in and cherry-pick; they will be genuinely wishing to set up a business. To some extent it is subjective, but it had to be set somewhere between zero and the upper limit of a perpetual licence, which would have been entirely inappropriate and generally the figures are considered to be agreeable.
Mr FINCH - On that point, Leader, you say it is not open to review. What if some of these figures are cockamamie in respect of people trying to run a business or trying to establish a business and find that those prices charged for these licences are not really building them a good business case? The figures of $60 000 for Launceston might be too much and you will not have the take-up. So at what point -
Mr Parkinson - It is $35 000 for Launceston.
Mr FINCH - Sorry, $60 000 for Hobart and $35 000 for Launceston. At what point, though, do you have a review of the situation to allow the opportunity to find out whether those prices that have been set are agreeable to the market? I am just highlighting this fact that because there is no review -
Mr Parkinson - If they are too high they will not be purchased, will they?
Mr FINCH - Yes, but the point is, could a review then set it at a market price that could be acceptable? Will we review this legislation in 10 years' time? Is that the opportunity? Will we reassess the legislation to see whether it should continue in this form?
Mr Wilkinson - Are you saying these should be in regulations that can be looked at?
Mr FINCH - If that is a mechanism to enable it to be reviewed.
Ms Thorp - It is only a reserve price.
Mr FINCH - Yes, what I am highlighting is this review process.
Ms Thorp - It is only the reserve price, it is not the set price.
Mr Parkinson - I am sure you realised that, though.
Mr FINCH - Yes, of course. I will sit down.