My adjournment this evening is for the minister for transport. More than 124 000 confidential documents have been leaked to Britain’s Guardian newspaper that outline Uber’s aggressive and illegal tactics that involved dodging police, undermining inept regulators and undisclosed meetings with politicians. None of this comes as a surprise to me. These documents reveal that Uber planned to spend $90 million in 2016 on the lobbying and the public relations alone. Victorian taxi drivers recall that time well. 2016 was the year this government announced plans to legalise Uber, deregulate the taxi industry and decimate licence values. What a success that has been. The Guardian reported of one Uber executive joking they had become pirates and also found that internal emails among staff referred to Uber’s ‘other than legal’ status. This is Uber’s playbook. The Uber files merely confirm what we already knew. Uber bulldozed its way into cities around the world with little regard to the taxi regulations while lobbying aggressively for those same laws or regulations to be changed to accommodate it.
The then regulator, Commercial Passenger Vehicles Victoria (CPVV), was played off a break. Despite Australian state laws requiring taxis and hire cars to obtain a licence prior to operating, Uber set up shop in Australia in 2014 without the required permits. Uber was able to operate illegally and did so without consequence while regulators were asleep behind the wheel. Taxi families lost everything. They could not compete against the illegal operator. The value of taxi licences was decimated. Homes were lost, superannuation disappeared and we pay the price to this day. If Uber, with its business approach, is the poster boy for the gig economy, we do not need it.
The whistleblower behind the leak, Mark MacGann, Uber’s former chief lobbyist, believes Uber’s senior executives knowingly sold people a lie about the economic benefits to drivers of the company’s gig economy model. He has said:
It is my duty to [now] speak up and help governments and parliamentarians right some fundamental wrongs. Morally, I had no choice in the matter.
The revelation of the Uber files is a timely call for a serious, considered evaluation of the way the local taxi and hire car industry was allowed to unravel. We cannot reverse the past, but we can repair it. As in the case of Mr MacGann, time and reflection have brought this matter to the fore. So I ask the minister: will you conduct an independent inquiry into the role of our regulator, then known as CPVV, in allowing Uber to operate illegally in Melbourne from 2014 to 2017?