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The Weekend Neos Kosmos : 20 December 2014
SATURDAY 20 DECEMBER 2014 3 AUSTRALIA Uber’s controversial taxi app in use in Brisbane. PHOTO: AAP IMAGE/DAN PELED. Victoria takes aim at Uber Undercover sting sees court action against drivers MICHAEL SWEET Victoria’s Taxi Services Commission (TSC) is taking court action against a dozen drivers from ‘ride-sharing’ company Uber in an effort to regulate its controversial business in the state. The TSC’s intervention fol- lows an undercover investigation, aimed at gathering evidence that would enable harsher penalties to be inflicted on Uber drivers beyond the current $1,700 fine. Victorian Taxi Commissioner Graeme Samuel says Uber is ignoring regulators. “I’d have to say, in their operations over the past 12 months they’ve not been gaming the regulators, they’ve just actually been thumbing their nose at them,” Mr Samuel told the ABC. Uber drivers use their own vehicles as taxis to collect passengers who have requested a car using Uber’s smart phone app. Uber’s general manager in the United States David Rohrsheim said he was “proud to say Australians have been rapid adopters of ride sharing.” Mr Rohrsheim added that with millions of rides being taken with Uber since its launch in Australia, it was “a clear sign that people are looking for another alternative”. Uber claims thousands of unlicensed drivers have been signed up, despite the fact they face fines of $1,700 in Victoria if caught. Neos Kosmos understands 80 infringement notices have been issued to Uber drivers in Victoria to date and a total of $130,000 in fines - all of which have been paid by Uber rather than the drivers. Uber’s latest company valuation is $49 billion and it is believed to be preparing to float on the US stock market. Over the past five years the company has spread to 50 countries and 250 cities. Melbourne taxi operator Harry Katsiabanis told Neos Kosmos that state regulators are seemingly powerless to stop Uber’s infiltration of the market. “The TSC is fighting a difficult beast. We need a new law which says if you’re providing a taxi service in an unlicensed vehicle, your vehicle should be impounded for a first time offence, and crushed if there are repeat offences.” Mr Katsiabanis said that Victoria and other states could adopt measures taken by the Singapore government, which mandates all taxi smartphone apps must be approved by government. “These Uber people are very smart. They don’t care about public transport. They just want to grow their company so they can list it on the stock market.” In WA this week it was re- vealed that more than 40 drivers in the state linked to Uber would be issued with notices, ordering them to hand over financial records and documents as part of the state government’s crackdown. Drivers for the Uber Black premium service, which launched in Perth in May, have already been hit with 11 infringements and 30 cautions. The new notices target drivers using the Uber X platform. WA’s Department of Transport has sent the ‘notice to produce’ orders to 42 individuals it suspects of operating a taxi vehicle contrary to the state’s Taxi Act. On Monday, the French government announced that the company’s UberPop service would be banned from January 1. The ban follows action by policy makers in Amsterdam, Brussels, Berlin and Delhi who have vowed to make Uber’s services illegal. The TSC’s court case against 12 Uber X drivers will be heard at the Melbourne Magistrate’s Court on February 5. Culprit of Sydney siege ‘damaged goods’: former lawyer Multiple Greek connections in Sydney siege, including criminal lawyer Manny Conditsis JOHN PYRROS The man at the centre of this week’s Lindt hostage scene, Man Haron Monis, was a loner who longed for media attention for his political causes, his former lawyer Manny Conditsis told Neos Kosmos. Monis, who sought asylum in Australia because of his views and fears of persecution in his native Iran, held up the Lindt store in Sydney’s Martin Place, reportedly demanding an Islamic State flag and contact with Prime Minister Tony Abbott. The Greek connection was prevalent in the tragedy that claimed two innocent victims and felled Monis. One of his captives was barrister Stefan Balafoutis, who was one of five escapees just after 4.00 pm - long before the 17 hour ordeal ceased. Whilst Monis’ wife Amirah Droudis, a Greek convert to Islam, has been quoted in the Herald Sun as saying, “I regret to say I am a terrorist. I admit and formally confess that for many years I have been a terrorist but I’ll try not to be any more!”. Despite Droudis’ now-deceased husband forcing the display of a Shahada (Islamic creed) in the Lindt window, Conditsis, who acted for him between February 2013 and January 2014, believes these were the actions of a disillusioned individual, who had become mentally unstable after what he believed was a government conspiracy against him. “The point is there’s a lot of talk in the media about him Man Haron Monis outside Downing Centre Local Court in Sydney. having a violent history, that is 100 per cent incorrect. The only criminal conviction he has relates to the writing of the letters (to the families of deceased Australian soldiers),” Conditsis said. “This particular man is the only person that’s ever been charged under this particular section of the Postal Services Act with his partner, Amirah Droudis - no-one before and no-one since. The relevance of that is that feeds into his perception that these are trumped up charges, because of his criticism of the Australian government (and its involvement in the Middle East).” Monis left behind a wife and two daughters in Iran, and was granted political asylum in 2001. He was sentenced for his letters in September 2013, and has since been bailed on the very serious accessory to murder charge, of his former spouse, who Droudis was charged with the murder of. The fact that he was on bail has featured heavily throughout the week, amassing controversy. “It’s not common to get bail for such serious charges. But they both got bail because the case presented against them by the prosecution was a circumstantial case, but more importantly a weak circumstantial case. The magistrate agreed and that went a long way in them getting bail. And there’s been a lot of criticism ‘why should this man be out on bail?’ etc. Well it’s very easy to say two days ago this man did what he did, so he shouldn’t have gotten bail.” Since his bail he has also been charged with a string of sexual assault claims, some dating 10 years. He failed twice to have his only conviction overturned by the High Court of Australia - the first time resulting in a no majority (3:3) outcome, and the second, as recent as Friday of last week, resulting in a rejected claim for special leave to have his case reheard. Only three days later did the siege occur. Conditsis said Monis’ apparent grievances serve no justification for his inexcusable actions. “His actions are indefensible, they were horrific, appalling, heinous, whether he had any intention to kill anyone or not, but what is important is what was this all about? Was it part of a terrorist conspiracy? In my view, no it wasn’t. “My own thought process is that if he considered in his own mind that it was inevitable that he was going to go to prison, then I believe in his mind he was never going to allow himself to go to prison again and he now considered that he had nothing to lose, and that he was going to do something drastic to get media attention because he loved media attention for his cause. “I’ve got no doubt that PHOTO: AAP IMAGE/SERGIO DIONISIO. when he made that decision to go in with a gun and hold people hostage he knew he was going to die, he was not coming out alive, because he would have known if he had come out he would have gone to prison for a very long time and he would not have allowed that to happen because of his past.” Accordingly, Monis’ past had led him to become a very secluded individual, shunned by both the Islamic and Iranian communities. Conditsis described him as a highly offensive character, whose connections with Islamic State should be given little to no weight. “If this was a terrorist act, and my understanding of a terrorist act is that those hostages would have been killed a long time before anything happened, and what’s important is no other organisation anywhere in the world has claimed any responsibility or connection with it. “I have my doubts that he had any intention of killing people, as distinct from holding them as hostages, which is bad enough ... My point is if this guy wanted to kill people then why didn’t he? Assuming he killed the male, why didn’t he kill other people?” He reiterated the seriousness of his former client’s actions and that his comments were reflective of the character of the man he knew, and should not be interpreted as forming a defence.
13 December 2014
10 January 2015