On behalf of the Opposition, I contribute to the Point to Point Transport (Taxis and Hire Vehicles) Amendment Bill 2022. Labor does not oppose the bill. From all my conversations with taxi plate owners and taxi drivers, it is crystal clear that they are heartbroken and angry after having been let down time and again by this Liberal-Nationals Government. Taxi plate owners and their families have been waiting on this bill for more than seven years—the equivalent of nearly two parliamentary terms in New South Wales—because this Government would not do right by them.
When they first bought their plates, plate owners and their families thought they had a fair deal. They paid a premium on what they were sold as a rock-solid, government-backed investment. In return, they thought they got an investment that had value, and one that they could either borrow against or sell when they retired. For many plate owners, including many first-generation migrants, the very fact that the Government was backing those investments is why they opted for them in the first place. Their taxi licences were a ticket to a better life in Australia, to owning a home and to a secure retirement. But that all changed in 2015, when the Government commenced the deregulation of the point to point sector by legalising rideshare and deregulating booked services. As a result, taxi plates across the State dramatically decreased in value, leading to with heavy financial losses for those who purchased or borrowed against what were previously viewed as government-backed secure investments.
The decrease in the value of those plates did not come about because of any decisions made by the plate owners; it came about because of a decision made by the Government, which sold them those plates as a secure investment in the first place. No-one is suggesting that the New South Wales Government should have done nothing as rideshare became more prevalent and as rideshare apps became more popular. No-one is suggesting that the Government should not have changed the regulatory framework to legitimise rideshare and other point to point operations. No-one disputes that. What it should not have done is leave plate owners high and dry.
Following the deregulation of the point to point sector, the Government subsequently announced a $250 million industry transition package. Plate owners who had taxi plates before July 2015 were able to apply for a $20,000 one-off grant for up to two plates. That was a measly amount of money. In many cases, it was a fraction of what plate owners had paid or even what they had borrowed in order to get into the market. People who expected to be self-funded retirees suddenly found themselves applying for the pension. People who thought they would be able to pay off their mortgages or loans suddenly found themselves under water. People who thought that they had a future in the industry saw the bottom fall out overnight.
It is no wonder that plate owners were disappointed by the Government's initial offer of just $20,000 per plate, capped at two plates, which was also taxed by the Commonwealth Government. That just added insult to injury. It stood in stark contrast to the Government's approach to the hire car industry, which was able to be compensated for the full value of its licences. Plate owners felt that it reeked of double standards and, to be honest, they were right. The New South Wales Government instituted the passenger service levy [PSL] to fund the industry transition package, which was originally set at $1, excluding GST. The Government said that it would provide help to struggling plate owners but, in 2020, five years after the Government set up the PSL, only $42 million of the $142 million raised had been paid out to plate owners.
It is no wonder that plate owners thought it was not good enough. It is no wonder that plate owners felt that they had to take matters into their own hands and set up a community campaign to tell their stories. I pay tribute to Martin Rogers, the chief executive officer of the NSW Taxi Council. With him today are Ashley Smith and Sharla Clark from Ballina, who are taxi operators. They are but some of the thousands of plate owners across New South Wales who have bravely told their stories again and again. I am sure that many of them have met with MPs here tonight across the Chamber.
I have sat in my office in Marrickville with plate owners and listened to their stories. I have sat with families who said to me that everything they worked to build had been taken away from them. Many of them came to this country to build a better life for themselves and their children. They told me that they had done everything right: They had worked hard, paid their taxes and built successful businesses to support themselves and their families. They just could not work out why the Government had done this to them. They could not work out why the Government had chosen to brazenly ignore them since 2015. I put some of their concerns on record tonight. One owner wrote to me to say:
The actions of the then Transport minister and government that allowed this to happen were nothing short of DESPICABLE. It is disappointing and disheartening. It is clear that there was nil consideration, thought or respect for the personal and financial struggles or real ramifications that would be inflicted upon owners.
Without getting emotional or carried away, I feel betrayed, and unfairly treated, to see my life investment to live on, has been driven down to zero.
After months of dedicated campaigning initiated by the NSW Taxi Council and plate owners, the Government made an initial offer of compensation, which was rejected. Some have tried to characterise that as plate owners being greedy, but that is untrue and grossly unfair. Plate owners just wanted to be treated fairly. They wanted a future and to be able to get on with their lives. But the Government's first offer did neither, especially for plate owners in the regions, who felt that the compensation offered to them by the Government simply did not reflect anything close to the value of their licences.
In some cases, the Government was using data that went back to the late 1990s and early 2000s. There was simply no way that it could accurately reflect the situation that regional operators found themselves in after the Government made a decision to drastically devalue their assets, which is why they kept up their calls for a fair settlement. Several weeks later, the Government made a second offer of increased compensation for plate owners in metropolitan Sydney and the regions. The Government said that its offer was final, and that any future compensation offer would be lower if that one was rejected. That offer was accepted by the industry because people could not afford to wait any longer, not because it was a generous offer or provided plate owners the full amount of value they had lost on their licences. To be clear, it is not a generous offer. Frankly, it is the least the Government can do after seven long years. With that history and understanding, I briefly address the mechanics of the bill.
The bill amends the Point to Point Transport (Taxis and Hire Vehicles) Act 2016 in order to complete the deregulation of the New South Wales point to point industry and facilitate the final financial scheme for owners of taxi licences. The proposed amendments in this bill follow the recommendations of the Point to Point Independent Review 2020 undertaken by Sue Baker-Finch. The bill includes a head of power to establish by regulation the ability to distribute $760 million financial assistance to be revenue neutral over time by the continuation of the passenger service levy [PSL], which will increase from $1.10 to $1.32 including GST. The deregulation of the industry will see the removal of caps on the number of taxi plates and an end to the cap on maximum fares for rank and hail. The bill will also increase the PSL from $1.10 to $1.32 including GST. It extends the timeframe of the PSL from 2028-29 to 2030 and the taxi industry will be fully deregulated from 2030 onwards.
The following compensation package has been announced by the Government: $150,000 per plate capped at six plates for metro taxi plate owners and up to $130,000 for regional taxi plate owners, divided into four regions. I note that there is no cap on the number of plates that can be compensated for in the regions; this is welcomed. Those caps are—region 1, $195,000; region 2, $115,000; region 3, $85,000 and region 4, $40,000. Labor will support those changes to compensation, which are an improvement on the Government's previous offer and a drastic improvement on its original offer of just $20,000 per plate, which was capped at two plates. We recognise the significant improvement. We have also raised concerns about the tax treatment of those payments. The Government has expressed that its intention is for the tax treatment of those payments to occur as a capital event. We understand that universal treatment of those payments as capital gains will require a private ruling from the tax commissioner. The Government has given the commitment that in seeking such a ruling it will use the commissioner's ruling on the Victorian package as a precedent, and we welcome that.
The Government's proposed reforms will allow for full deregulation of the taxi industry, including the deregulation of rank and hail services and the uncapping of licences by 2030. There are no constraints on taking booked fares under the new legislation. The Government has said that fares for rank and hail will be deregulated over the long term. Labor holds concerns that the deregulation of services could mean that some regional communities will end up being less well served than others—concerns that to date have not been adequately addressed by the Minister for Regional Transport. The Government is yet to outline specific strategies to address the potential short-term shortages that are likely to arise. I think of those in regional and remote towns where there are only one or two taxi services currently, where older and vulnerable people may rely on those services infrequently, particularly during the week, to visit shops and doctors' appointments. We are concerned about the continuation of those services which are essential, and the only form of public transport within many parts of regional New South Wales.
There are also serious questions about how the Taxi Transport Subsidy Scheme will be able to function in a deregulated market. We have raised those concerns with the Government. There are concerns that accessible taxi operators will have limited incentive to operate, as they have been exempted from buying plates under the current regime. As their vehicles come to the end of their lives, they may not want to continue to operate an accessible vehicle under a deregulated flat licence fee regime. That is why Labor will move an amendment to the bill to institute a statutory review after two years of the bill's commencement. That is because plate owners and the industry should not be forgotten after we pass this bill. The communities, particularly the regional and remote communities that need taxi services, that have no other public transport services, should not be forgotten.
This bill will not have plate owners and the industry jumping for joy. The Government has gone about this whole process the wrong way. It did nothing for seven years and ended up giving plate owners an ultimatum. Plate owners should have been listened to back in 2015; instead, they had to wait for seven years. That was simply too long. But this bill does give them a resolution. They should not have had to fight so hard and fight for so long for something that should have been so simple. All they wanted was to be treated fairly. I hope today, some of the thousands of plate owners finally feel that they are able to get on with their lives. I commend the bill to the House.