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The Weekend Neos Kosmos : 24 September 2016
DIGITAL.NEOSKOSMOS.COM THE WEEKEND NEOS KOSMOS | SATURDAY 24 SEPTEMBER 2016 25 LETTER Greeks and other migrants soft targets for taxi licence debacle Over the past year Neos Kosmos has been contacted by many distressed and concerned Greek Australians who hold taxi licences, amid the revolutionary changes that have affected their industry. This week we received the following letter from one of those licence holders. We have withheld the author’s name, at their request, for privacy and professional reasons. Dear editor, My parents migrated from Greece to Australia for a ‘better life’ in the 1960s, leaving behind their patritha (birthplace), family, brothers, sisters, friends and loved ones. In the years that followed, they sacrificed a great deal to build a life they thought would be free from financial hardship for their children. They raised my brothers and I to respect humankind, take nothing for granted and work hard to achieve 'The Great Australian Dream' of home ownership and financial independence. They even put up with being called 'greasy wogs' and 'to go back to where they came from'. However, this didn't deter them and they persistently laboured throughout their working life. They assimilated into the Australia they called home and served their community well. In their efforts to build some financial security for themselves and their children, my parents purchased a taxi licence, as by this stage in the 1980s my father had been retrenched as an employee and decided he would drive his own taxi. Over the next decade, my father sold all the property he had previously invested in and bought another two taxi licences, believing the licences were viable long-term investments as advertised by the Victorian government. Now the government has stolen our licences. We've been told by the Victorian government that our government-issued licences now have ZERO value and they will be COMPULSORILY ACQUIRED by the government in 2018, at a fraction of my family's investment in the taxi licences. We will lose around $2.5 million and my parents, now self-funded retirees, will have no income or superannuation. The government's proposal is to pay a laughable $100k for the first licence and $50k for the second licence and nothing for a third licence - zero! This $150k is to be paid to my parents over an eight-year period. How are they supposed to feed themselves, meet their household living expenses, health and medical expenses, insurance, rising cost of utilities bills and the list goes on? The stress and anguish my family is experiencing right now is collectively being felt by many, many other migrant families across Melbourne. I personally fell for the same investment trap in 2010, purchasing a taxi licence at peak for $505,000. I mortgaged my home to do this and still have a huge bank loan. The last few weeks, since the Victorian government's reform announcements on 23 August 2016, have been very difficult for families across the state. A number of Victorians have taken their own lives over this mess created by government. Now the government is telling us to apply for the $50 million hardship fund, and if we meet the ‘hardship eligibility criteria’, we may receive a slice of the ‘fairness fund’. It their assignment contracts re-instated. How are people expected to put food on the table and meet their financial debts, bank loans and everyday living expenses as a result of this 'surprise' reform? Labor has demonstrated it no longer holds true to the values of supporting the working class and ethnic groups. Licence holders are predominantly migrants, from non-English speaking backgrounds, with minimal access to resources and knowledge of the Australian legal system. The government has justified the expropriation of assets from a vulnerable group of people through a clause in the Transport Act. The state government has profited from the taxi licensing system; raising considerable revenue through the sale and lease of taxi and hire car licences. In 2010 the Victorian Labor Party tendered licences − the advertisement read: "The Victorian government is releasing up to 530 taxi licences My father sold all the property he had previously invested in and bought another two taxi licences, believing the licences were viable long-term investments ... Now the government has stolen our licences. would appear that as in the previous $4 million ‘hardship’ fund this government rolled out in late 2015/early 2016, none of us will meet the eligibility criteria because we're not yet destitute. The government's definition of hardship is orchestrated within a stringent model characterised by very rigid and narrow parameters. It is inhumane and implausible to make people wait until 2018 to see if they are eligible for a slice of the ‘fairness fund’, of which there is no transparent criteria available for us to determine what constitutes eligibility for this. People’s lease assignments are expiring and we're being held hostage to wholesale lease assignments (taxi rentals), while others are simply not having in the Greater Melbourne region to respond to growth in demand for taxis in Melbourne." I won't go into the details of depression, mental health issues and other psychological impacts this is having on our families. I just want you to know that the state government-issued licences were sold on the basis that they were “as safe as houses/property”, only to discover I've worked for nothing for the last 25 years, my parents have worked for nothing for over 50 years and we have now lost around $2.5 million. I also risk losing the roof over my head. I haven't enjoyed a period of high income and capital growth. I'm not requiring compensation for the loss of potential earnings or potential capital growth. I just want to be compensated adequately and properly so that I can put the last few years of anguish behind me and get on with my life. My parents should be compensated adequately and properly for their life's work, so as to avoid poverty and impending reliance on Victoria’s taxpayer-funded Centrelink, welfare and healthcare benefits, and so that we as a family can sustain our financial futures. This is deeply crushing and it's happening right here, in 'the land of opportunity'. Remember that it was the government that encouraged investing in taxis as a launching pad for migrants. Now these hardworking people are being exploited because governments have the power to change legislation to serve their own interests. The government has made the decision to deregulate and time will tell if this will improve or further destroy the commercial vehicle industry. Let's be clear, taxi licence holders are the single biggest losers from these reforms. The treatment of licence holders in this context is indicative of the lack of ethics in public policy formation. We want proper compensation for our licences, in line with other industries, such as Port Phillip fisheries where licensing rights were revoked. Would the government have refused to compensate families whose homes were compulsorily acquired for the East West Link if a legal clause permitted them to negate responsibility? Would they then offer affected families one-fifth the value of their property to be paid out over eight years so they could never re-invest? If a family owned more than one property would they say to the family, we will give you 50 per cent compensation for the second property and we will take for free any subsequent properties? In the event that any of these families owed a mortgage on the home, would they need to keep paying the bank loan though the house was expropriated by the government for the greater good of the community? I don't have an issue with the need to remove the high cost of licences or to reduce the cost of operating a taxi. I do believe, however, that those that invested in the government's licensing system should be fairly compensated. Assets cannot be expropriated for the greater good without adequate compensatory measures. * If you would like to show your support for all the affected families, please sign the online petition at change.org under East West Link Mark 2 PHOTO: AAP VIA AP/DAVID CROSLING.
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