Companies have innovated; now it's government's turn - Sydney Morning Herald

Companies have innovated, now it's government's turn, Sydney Morning Herald, 9 February

It can be hard to spot trends while they’re happening. But looking back on 2015, it’s pretty clear this was the year the sharing economy really took off in Australia.

Services like Uber and Airbnb went from emerging services to major market players, while new Australian companies like Airtasker and ParkHound grew from start-ups into fully-fledged firms.

As these services have expanded, there has also been an effort by some state governments to work out new rules and regulations that address issues like safety in the sharing economy without smothering its growth. The ACT became the first Australian jurisdiction to legalise ride-sharing services such as Uber in October, followed by New South Wales in December. The Tasmanian Government has promised to introduce a similar bill in the first half of 2016. Many local governments have also begun working out new rules for sharing things like homes and carparks. 

It’s been heartening to see some of the states and territories embracing the challenge of the sharing economy. But now we need the Federal Parliament to also step up. 

This is because there are big questions to resolve here that only the federal government can take leadership on. A key one is workers’ rights: ensuring sharing economy workers get a fair deal while also protecting wages and conditions across the sectors these services operate in. Another is tax: as with any part of our economy, companies and individual providers doing business here should pay their fair share, but it seems that some currently aren’t. 

There’s also the problem that leaving sharing economy regulation to the states alone has already begun creating a patchwork of different rules around the country. For example, despite being legalised in the ACT and New South Wales, UberX is still banned in places like Victoria and South Australia. This kind of variation makes it hard for consumers to know what the rules are and harder still for companies to do the right thing. Uncertainty is exactly what we don’t need if we want more Australian sharing economy companies to spring up and thrive.

That’s why Labor has developed a set of National Sharing Economy Principles which lay out the approach we’d take to building a fair and flexible set of rules that can apply across the country.

First, we believe there should be tailored, light-touch regulation specific to the sharing economy that can protect consumers without creating unnecessary regulatory burden. As sharing economy platforms are in a better position to understand and act on new rules, they should be responsible for compliance whenever possible, rather than the individual Australians providing services.

Existing work laws also need to evolve to ensure wages and conditions are not eroded for Australians working in the sharing economy. Maintaining good work standards in these emerging sectors will also ensure workers’ rights aren’t undercut or eroded across our workforce as a whole.

And of course, no-one should get away with dodging their taxes. Platform providers should pay the standard corporate tax rate, while individual workers should pay the appropriate amount of income tax. As transactions occur in the digital realm, there is an opportunity for sharing economy platforms to assist Australians in reporting earning to the ATO before they complete their tax returns.

There should also be rules on insurance and inspections in place to protect public safety, and most importantly – sharing economy services should be accessible to all Australians, including people with disabilities.

Once these kinds of rules are in place, we believe there should be zero tolerance for companies that continue to flout them, because that’s not fair on the companies and individuals who do the right thing.

Since it seems that the Turnbull Government is yet to come up with any of its own principles on how to grow Australia’s sharing economy, they are very welcome to share ours. The past year has shown that these services are powering ahead. The federal government shouldn’t be standing still as the gap between old rules and new ways of doing business widens.  

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Cnr Gungahlin Pl and Efkarpidis Street, Gungahlin ACT 2912 | 02 6247 4396 | [email protected] | Authorised by A. Leigh MP, Australian Labor Party (ACT Branch), Canberra.