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Liberals "embrace the future" with bill to legalise Uber

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The State Liberals have stolen a march on the Weatherill Government on ride-sharing, moving to introduce their own legislation that would allow companies such as Uber to operate legally in South Australia.

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Transport Minister Stephen Mullighan is still keeping the Government’s own response under wraps, after receiving the findings of an independent report he commissioned into the future of the taxi and hire-car industry early this year.

But the Opposition, which has long advocated for ride-sharing to be legalised, has intensified the political pressure, producing a draft bill to amend the Passenger Transport Act.

Liberal leader Steven Marshall told InDaily the changes “will enable ride-sharing to be legal in SA, as it is in many other cities around the world”.

“We shouldn’t be fearful of the future, we should embrace the future… we can’t see any reason why [the Government] wouldn’t support our legislation,” he said, pointing out an Opposition bill to establish a compensation fund for members of the Aboriginal stolen generations last year helped hasten Government action on the matter.

The Liberals have previously called for a ride-sharing trial in SA, but the Government has held fast to its review process.

But Marshall argues: “They’ve had the final report now for months.”

“They’ve got this secret report with secret recommendations [and] we can’t just sit around and wait for Minister Mullighan and Jay Weatherill to make a decision on this,” he said.

“There are many, many benefits for consumers in terms of choice, and for drivers in terms of employment, with environmental and congestion benefits as well… it’s something we should just get on with.”

He said the policy “falls perfectly” within the remit of his recent “2036” discussion paper, which advocated “lower costs, more choice and less regulation”.

“That’s what 2036 was all about… we are unequivocally on the side of consumers here in SA,” Marshall said.

New South Wales included a multi-million dollar compensation scheme for the taxi industry when it legalised ride-sharing, to be funded by a surcharge on each journey.

But Marshall says such allowances are “certainly not envisaged in our legislation”.

“I think [that’s] up to the Government,” he said.

However, he insisted “we propose a soft landing for the taxi industry” by “encouraging the Government to put a four-year moratorium on the sale of new taxi plates”.

“They’ve exacerbated the situation by continuing to sell plates, when they’ve known ride-sharing technology is being introduced in 200 cities around the world now,” he said.

“It’s embarrassing for SA that people can come here for an arts festival, press the application on their phone and nothing turns up.”

He said the “experience in other jurisdictions around the world is that ride-sharing directly grows the overall size of the market”.

“We’re certainly saying there should be a moratorium on new plates and we strongly believe taxis should retain exclusive rights to ranks and hailing… but ride-sharing is going to grow the overall [number] of people travelling into the city and throughout SA,” he said.

Marshall said the Liberals had been in “regular contact with Uber” but argued “this is not just about Uber”.

“There are many companies popping up around the world looking at the sharing economy, and we don’t think SA should be scared of the future.”

He said if Labor rejected the bill, the Opposition would still look at anything the Government put up in due course, but pledged ride-sharing would be “one of the first cabs off the rank” under a future Liberal Government.

“We won’t be playing politics with this – if the Government don’t support it and introduce their own legislation, we’ll consider that,” he said.

In a statement to InDaily, Tom White, general manager of Uber Adelaide, welcomed Marshall’s announcement.

“There is overwhelming community support for the Government to take immediate action… thousands of South Australians have emailed their political leaders over the past year, asking them to support their right to choose how they get around their city, and for action,” he said.

“The Premier has a chance to recognise that ride-sharing is new and deserves specific regulations to provide economic opportunity and choice for SA, and aren’t just old rules in new clothing.

“We call on the Premier to listen to the people of SA and welcome ridesharing to the State.”

But Mullighan said Marshall had been “caught out again making policy on the run”, accusing him of getting “basic facts wrong [by] claiming that Uber X is operating legally in Melbourne, Perth and Brisbane, where in fact it is only legal in New South Wales and the ACT”.

“He’s also changed his position from advocating for a trial to now saying he will legislate on an ongoing basis,” the minister told InDaily in a statement.

“Even Mike Baird, the Liberal NSW Premier, announced a detailed industry assistance and compensation scheme for the taxi industry when legalising UberX. By ignoring the need for industry assistance, Steven Marshall is sending a clear message to the taxi industry that he doesn’t care about their future or the families involved in the industry.”

Mullighan said the Government’s response to the inquiry would be “aimed at growing a sustainable taxi and chauffeur vehicle industry that is attractive to customers into the future, as well as what role there is for competition”.

Premier Jay Weatherill told reporters this morning it was “irresponsible for the Opposition to be proposing legislation without the benefit of [seeing] that very extensive review”.

“The Opposition knows we’re very shortly going to announce our response to the taxi review, which will deal with all these issues and that will also involve legislation – so it’s a bit of a stunt,” he said.

“You’ll see how we deal with it.”

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