​Palaszczuk calls for ride-booking review in the wake of Uber ban

Queensland's premier has called on the state's former government director-general to bring forward his review of ride-booking services, saying there needs to be a decision made soon.
Written by Asha Barbaschow, Contributor

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has indicated that she is fed up with waiting for an independent review that will spell out how ride-booking services like Uber are to operate in the state, and wants it brought forward.

Former government director-general Jim Varghese is due to hand down by August his review of the government's taxi strategic plan, which will recommend what role, if any, ride-booking apps will play in Queensland's public transport landscape.

But Palaszczuk on Thursday indicated she wanted the review completed by July, saying she would be discussing the new deadline with Varghese and Transport Minister Stirling Hinchliffe.

"I think there are divergent views ... I would like to see that review brought forward," she said. "I think we need to make a decision on that and finalise it."

Palaszczuk's comments come after state parliament last week voted to crack down on ride-booking services like Uber, which are still illegal in the state ahead of the review.

Not long afterwards, the Queensland government announced its plans to tweak the legislation as the contentious crackdown on Uber inadvertently made charter bus services, tourist services, chartered school bus services, community transport services, limousine services, shuttle services, and hotel accommodation transfer services illegal if not operated by a licensed taxi.

A spokesman for Hinchliffe on Thursday said the threat to all pre-booked passenger vehicles needed to be removed.

"The government calls on the Liberal National Party to join with us in removing the attack on community service buses, school buses, and the tourism industry," they said. "We'll seek to clean up the Liberal National Party's mess again."

Opposition transport spokesman Scott Emerson has since replied, saying his party would support the legislation being changed "if there are any unintended consequences".

Uber has thumbed its nose at the changes, vowing to operate as normal and take fines -- which were hiked from AU$1,413 to AU$2,356 due to the legislation -- to court.

Additionally, under the new laws, companies like Uber could be penalised up to AU$23,560, and transport inspectors have also been given greater powers to investigate people suspected of operating an illegal taxi.

Uber has been at the centre of a prolonged debate about regulatory changes to the industry since it entered the Australian market in 2012, with the Taxi Council Queensland denouncing it in July as a "foreign bully", and now saying it welcomed the increased penalties.

Taxi drivers and owners have since been pressuring the government to act against Uber, insisting the multinational company is affecting their livelihoods, whilst the RACQ, the state's peak motoring body, has also called on the government to move quickly to reform the industry and avoid focusing on penalties.

Uber on the other hand has been urging the government to regulate ride-booking services so it can operate legally in the state, with Uber public policy director Brad Kitschke describing the law as "old and outdated", saying it was difficult to be sure ride-booking participants were committing an offence.

In response to the changes, Uber installed a pop-up message within its app prompting customers to email their MP, even providing a template letter of complaint.

Previously, the Queensland government said it would be reviewing its taxi strategy, with Deputy Premier Jackie Trad saying at the time she would not rule out the coexistence of taxis and Uber services on the state's roads.

"Other jurisdictions have made a place for Uber without diminishing the importance of the taxi industry that's already established," she said.

Queensland now joins the Northern Territory in denying the use of ride-booking services, with the NT government announcing reforms to its taxi industry last month, saying it "will not be making any regulatory changes authorising point to point ridesharing transport services".

It is not all bad news for Uber drivers in Australia; the Australian Capital Territory, New South Wales, and South Australia governments have all given the ride-booking service the green light.

With AAP

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