The Commercial Passenger Vehicle Industry Bill 2017, the Government’s first piece of legislation to effect the reforms to the industry they announced last August, passed the Upper House last Friday 23 June.
There was fast and furious negotiation and discussion between parties throughout last week. Unfortunately, given the transition assistance was not part of the legislation, little of the negotiation centered on this issue. Even Liberal MPs who made speeches about the inadequacy of compensation ultimately supported the amendments to the Bill which were agreed. In fact, very little of member statements or questions related to compensation. This just revealing that it was much more politically expeditious for MPs to pay lip service to supporting the industry but saw more value in negotiating changes to the issue they think will impact on the community (voters at large) the most - the levy.
You can read the Government’s media release following the Bill’s passage here.
You can read the transcripts of the debate from Hansard (the record of Parliament) here.
Doesn’t the Bill need to pass the Lower House still?
As a formality, the Bill, with the amendments recommended by the Legislative council (upper house), needs to return to the Legislative Assembly (lower house) to be passed. However, this is only a formality because the Government supported the Sex Party’s amendments, as did the Greens and Liberals, and so will pass without issue. In essence, the deal is done. The Legislative Assembly next sits on 8 August 2017.
Can't we fight it?
We know this decision will cause great distress for many in the industry, including our members. Over the past months there has been a great deal of talk about legal challenges or other courses of legal action. The VTA will continue to engage with colleagues in the industry and lawyers to determine whether any of the proposed courses of action are viable. However, based on advice received to date, and at the time of the Fels Inquiry it is our current view that there are no meaningful legal options to stop, delay or force alteration to the reforms as they stand.
What was amended in the Bill?
There were several amendments proposed by the Greens, Sex Party and Shooters, Fishers and Farmers. The Sex Party’s amendments were eventually accepted, with support from both the Greens and Government. The Greens withdrew their amendments and those from the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers were defeated.
The accepted amendments alter the Bill in the following ways:
- Reduction of the levy from $2 to $1.
- Provision to increase the levy above $1 if the revenue is not sufficient to cover the costs of the financial assistance. The Essential Services Commission (ESC) will be the authority conducting the audit and oversight of the levy collection. The ESC may only recommend the levy be increased above $1 if the total amount of the levy likely to be collected within 8 years will not be equal to the money spent on transitional assistance.
- Inclusion in the Bill a statement to make clear that the levy is to be used to “recover the cost of transitional assistance” and “partly fund the regulation of the commercial passenger vehicle industry”. This effectively ‘hypothecates’ the levy in an attempt to ensure the money raised from the industry via the levy is used only for these two purposes and does not go in to consolidated revenue for the Government
In negotiations, the Government also agreed to:
- Remove the $50 million cap on the Fairness Fund, to ensure payments are made for all eligible applications
- Establish a system of rebates for country taxi businesses disproportionately affected by the impacts of the $1 levy. There is no detail on how this scheme will work but will be administered by the ESC.
There were no changes made to the transition assistance. You can see the final table of transition assistance here.
What happens now?
The TSC provided advice at a recent meeting of a new group called the ‘Industry Implementation Group’ about implementation timelines. They advised that following Royal Assent of the final Bill the following will occur:
- 6-8 weeks – Transition assistance will be processed with cheques paid to licence holders
- 8-12 weeks – All existing taxi and hire car licences will be changed over to the new licence type
- 12 weeks ongoing – New taxi or hire car licences will be available to those not already operating
Over the coming days, they will advise us of more concrete deadlines. We hope this first stage of preparing for the payment of transition assistance can be initiated now such that cheques can be paid to licence holders soon after the passage of the amended Bill through Parliament in early August.
What about the Fairness Fund?
The Department have advised that the first tranche of Fairness Fund recipients will likely receive letters notifying them of the outcome of their application and cheques in the coming fortnight. However, there are still many applications which are yet to be fully assessed, and some that are awaiting further information. Notifications and payments are likely to roll out over the coming months.
Don’t panic if you hear of colleagues who get notifications or payments from the fund and you have not. These will not occur all at once.