26 April 2016
by Atreyee Chowdhury

Bob Katter commits political suicide with the ludicrous banning of Uber

Authorities in Queensland are continuing with their crackdown on Uber’s services with fines being hiked for drivers violating recently-modified laws. As per the new law, drivers caught driving for the ride-sharing service would be fined heavily.

New rules were passed which would fine Uber drivers up to AUD 2,356 if caught driving for the ride-sharing service in Queensland. The effects of the modified law continued to affect people after harsher penalties were passed by the Queensland Parliament. Meanwhile, the government, which opposed the laws, warned that LNP-supported amendments to the bill could make even chartered buses and limousines illegal, provided they do not have a taxi license.

A private member’s bill was introduced by the Katter’s Australian Party (KAP) recently. While presenting the bill, KAP MP Rob Katter accused Uber of damaging the taxi industry. Political parties such as Labor and the LNP were in favour of higher and harsher fines while Katter Party suggested that ‘offenders’ be given demerit points. The former had their way as they voted with KAP to pass amendments that would increase fines for both Uber and the driver.

Katter said the changes were a clear message to ride-sharing firms. He added, “They don’t make the decisions, we do here. Someone has to be the grown-up and say ‘I’m sorry you might get a cheaper ride tonight but in the long run this does not serve the national interest’. That’s the question that needs to be addressed, not the tide is coming. That’s not a reason to do it”.

Further, the purview of the offence was modified so that it became easier for Transport Inspectors to fine those working for ride-sharing services. The changes were passed by a majority of votes in the hung parliament.

However Transport Minister Stirling Hinchliffe said changes, which were not supported by the government, would mean that all ‘pre-booked passenger services’ could be considered illegal. The minister explained his argument that the new changes would adversely affect anyone who provides a booking service for a service using a motor vehicle to transport passengers for a fee.

The minister said, “To be clear, this may now mean that charter bus services, tourist services, chartered school bus services, community transport services, limousine services, shuttle services and hotel accommodation transfer services are all deemed illegal if not operated by a licensed taxi. It also means CTP insurance required for some of these services, may be, depending on the insurer AUD6300.”

The minister also said that he was seeking urgent legal advice over the amendments with a view to make amends to the law that might not go down well with most people.

On the other hand, the move by the politicians was matched by Uber, which created a new “Katter” option when customers opened their app. Customers would then be greeted with a message which shows ‘no cars available’, and a hat icon. The firm said that it would continue business as usual.

Despite all the noise and developments, ride-sharing could still be legalised in Queensland because a review report is due in August. The passing of the new amendments, which is against the government’s interest, could also mean that the government would come up with a more powerful amendment later.

Some industry observers say that Bob Katter, arguably the most backward MP in Australia has just made Queensland the most backward state by pushing for the outlawing of Uber.

One critic said it’s an embarrassment. “Australia should be a 21st century nation adopting technology and innovation, but here we have backward politicians in a backward state making us a backward country.

“Bob Katter has committed political suicide, even though he doesn’t know it yet. He barely won his electorate in the last federal election and I am sure voters will send him to an over due retirement in July.

“We need innovative politicians that are not ruled by dodgy unions such as the taxi unions in Queensland that have clearly funded the Katter party for him to push such draconian laws against Uber”, he said.