Taxi laws passed as dissenters regroup

first_imgThe Victorian government’s sweeping reforms of the state’s taxi industry were passed by parliament last Thursday, much to the anger of many taxi licence holders who are now demanding compensation and threatening industrial action. The passing of the laws was greeted with abject disappointment by around 100 taxi licence holders on the steps of the Victorian parliament. Licence holders fear that their investment in a licence will dramatically reduce in value under the government’s plans to extend competition and introduce more licences. Many drivers have said the changes to the licence system will result in bankruptcy for existing licence holders. Some in the crowd told reporters that they would lobby for a full strike of taxis and even a blockade of the city, others called for a hunger strike. A significant factor in the government winning the vote to introduce the legislation was the actions of rogue independent MP Geoff Shaw, who sided with the government, even though he had expressed criticism of the taxi reforms earlier in the week. Without Shaw’s vote, Labor’s attempt to move amendments for further consultation between the government and the taxi industry failed. Some of the government backbenchers were concerned about the reforms following a letterbox campaign in marginal seats, organised by Taxi Industry Stakeholders Victoria, a lobby group representing many owner-operators dissatisfied with the recommendations of the Allan Fels Inquiry. Such was the mood of the crowd blockading the front of the parliament building late on Thursday afternoon, MPs were forced to leave from the back entrance after the controversial vote. Some in the crowd reportedly accused the government of racism, with the majority of the protestors being members of Melbourne’s ethnic minority communities. 
One protestor carried a placard which read ‘Vote Liberal. Vote for Communism’. Jacob Revzin, who fled Communist Russia three decades ago, began working as a Melbourne taxi driver 32 years ago, he told The Age newspaper. “The government now took away from me everything. I run away from the Communists, and now the Liberals here have sold their principles,” Mr Revzin said. John Zammit, 74, a Maltese migrant who came to Australia in 1961, said that all his years of long shifts in the taxi had came to nothing. “I don’t get a pension, I don’t get a health card. This government is going to kill me because I have blood pressure. My children and my grandchildren will never vote Liberal again,” he said. Owner-operator Peter Khawaja, who has four licences, told Fairfax Media that their entitlements were being stripped off them in the same way proceeds of crime were taken off criminals. “This is bad. You mortgage your house against this. This is depression stuff,” Mr Khawaja said. On Friday, Harry Katsiabanis, managing director of Taxilink, one of Melbourne’s largest taxi fleet agencies and a vocal critic of the government’s reforms, told Neos Kosmos that he was dismayed by the result. “It was like a death in the family yesterday, some had an inkling of hope,” he said. Asked what the next steps would be for those wanting to oppose the legislation and if a strike was on the cards, Mr Katsiabanis said: “I’ll now be lobbying the upper house members to see if we can get some common sense to prevail. If that fails we’ll be launching our legal actions straight after. “A strike is not something I want to support at this stage. I don’t think it’s fair that the people of Melbourne or Victoria should be disadvantaged because of the government being stupid. “I don’t like strike action, but if it becomes a means to an end, then so be it.” Facebook Twitter: @NeosKosmos Instagramlast_img

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