UberX receiving 'special treatment' from ATO: Uber ANZ GM

With 15,000 Australian drivers on its books, Uber's Australia and New Zealand general manager said the ATO is getting in the way of the sharing economy by imposing taxi driver rules on UberX drivers.
Written by Asha Barbaschow, Contributor

Uber's Australia and New Zealand general manager David Rohrsheim believes the Australian Tax Office (ATO) has singled out UberX partners for "special treatment".

The company said in its blog last month that normally small businesses do not need to register for GST until their turnover reaches $75,000 per annum, but the ATO believes that suppliers of ridesharing services must register and pay GST from the first dollar of turnover.

"With UberX, the tax office has come out and said, 'before you conduct a single ride, we're asking you to fill out registration forms, and a whole bunch of red tape', which we think is just going to get in the way of the sharing economy," Rohrsheim told ABC RN Breakfast on Monday morning.

He said the company's driver partners are "certainly not employees" as they are independent operators who are free to come and go if they do not wish to drive at a certain time.

"Uber drivers are not providing taxi services. Full stop," Rohrsheim said.

"They are providing a ride sharing opportunity, part time, no cash changing hands, fully electronic."

According to the company, a typical Uber driver is available on a part-time or short-term basis, and earns AU$30 per hour in fares.

Uber announced on Monday morning that its ride-sharing service has provided 15,000 Australians with jobs -- with more than 45 percent of its drivers coming from postcodes with high rates of unemployment.

"You've got 15,000 jobs created so far without any assistance from the government. No state in Australia has yet really taken up the opportunity of the sharing economy -- that's a missed opportunity," Rohrsheim told the ABC.

In May, the ATO issued the GST directive that advised those providing a ride-sharing service needed to have an Australian Business Number and be registered for GST as Uber was declared taxi travel by the tax office. Drivers had until August 1 to register.

Three days after the cut-off date for GST registration, the ride-sharing company filed documents with the Federal Court against the tax office's GST directive.

Despite contesting the ATO ruling, Uber has told its drivers to starting paying GST, with Rohrscheim saying he is disappointed that the ATO has made drivers comply with its interpretation of the law.

"A part time activity [such as Uber] is very different to what we had in the nineties when the GST was introduced," he said. "It deserves to be examined, and deserves to be reviewed, rather than the ATO making a policy on the fly."

Uber has caught the attention of state governments around the country. In Western Australia the state's Department of Transport released a green paper last month which centred on regulating the transport industry and ensuring consumer safety, with the state's minister for transport Dean Nalder hoping to "simplify this with a single piece of legislation".

"On-demand transport is a critical part of the wider transport system in Western Australia, and ensuring it has the flexibility to meet the challenges of a growing community is a high priority," the minister said at the time.

Originally, the state's transport department threatened to prosecute Uber drivers for illegally operating a taxi in Perth, since softening its stance to start the regulatory discussion.

In NSW, the state's opposition leader Luke Foley called on the state government to embrace the digital age, when he announced his plans to introduce a private member's Bill to regulate ride-sharing services, such as those offered by Uber, back in June.

A month later, the state government launched a task force which, according to the government, will work with customers, the taxi industry, hire car companies, and other stakeholders to examine the market's sustainability and competition, the impact of emerging technologies, the importance of customer safety, and the burden of current taxi regulations.

Previously though, NSW was also quick to prosecute with the state's Roads and Maritime Services issuing court attendance notifications to Uber drivers before talk of reform was on the cards.

Similarly, Queensland has had a turbulent relationship with the ride-sharing service, with drivers in the sunshine state allegedly being struck with a total of AU$1.7 million worth of fines, and 1,536 infringements.

Last month the state's Deputy Premier Jackie Trad suggested that Uber could coexist with traditional taxi services through modernisation of the regulatory framework, which was then followed by a report by the ABC which revealed not allowing Uber to operate in the state of Queensland actually reduces competition to the tune of AU$40 million.

According to Uber, it has now seen more than 1 million registered riders in Australia.

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