22 October 2015

The sharing economy is changing the way we buy and sell things. It is also changing how we think about work, and the line between what we see as our private property and public resources.

In the past couple of years, dozens of local companies have sprung up to help Australians make better use of our spare rooms and unused tools, or tackle problems like traffic congestion and parking shortages by sharing resources around. 

Even those of us who have never booked a caravan holiday on Camplify, have probably hitched a ride with Uber. 

You might not know that GoGet will allow you to bring your weekly supermarket shop to your front door, but you've probably used AirBnB to book a room. 

There is huge economic and community potential in the emerging peer-to-peer market. I want to see Australia embrace it, while ensuring we have the right rules in place to protect workers, consumers and the public good. 

This is why Labor will today announce a set of National Sharing Economy Principles which lay out our priorities and approach to this sector. 

We've spent many months listening and talking to Australian consumers, companies and peak bodies about what these principles should cover. Our aim is to help the sharing economy flourish within a supportive and flexible regulatory framework. 

The first principle is that the sharing economy deserves its own light-touch rules and regulations. After all, when you're using your own car, home or goods to deliver services, that's hardly as high-risk as running a big business. 

Second, these new services shouldn't compromise Australian wages and working conditions. There's nothing for Australia to gain from a race to the bottom on pay and conditions, or from undermining peoples' right to a decent standard of living. 

The third principle is the simplest: everyone doing business in the sharing economy must pay their fair share of tax. That means sharing economy companies should pay company tax at the standard rate -- whether they are local firms or big international ones. Australians delivering sharing economy services should also pay income tax just like everyone else does. 

Then there's public safety. Australians want to feel safe and know they're protected if anything goes wrong. So sharing economy services should have proper insurance and be covered by the Australian Consumer Law. 

Sharing economy services must also be accessible to Australians with disabilities. We don't accept exclusion and discrimination in this country, full stop. The sharing economy should be no exception. 

Finally, everyone should play by the rules. For the past couple of years the sharing economy has operated in a regulatory grey area and, sometimes, outside the law entirely. That might be understandable when the rules haven't yet caught up, but it is inexcusable once they do. When governments put in place tailored, light-touch rules for the sharing economy, there should be zero tolerance for companies that continue to flout Australian laws. 

Striking the right balance between supporting innovation and protecting the Australian community is complex. In a fast-moving digital context, it will be a challenge to get it right. But Labor believes we owe it to Australia to take this challenge seriously. 

In my Budget Reply speech this year, I talked about encouraging innovation and harnessing the potential of digital disruption to build a smart, modern and fair Australia. Embracing the sharing economy is one practical way we can do this. 

If Malcolm Turnbull wants to work with me to turn these principals into concrete policies, this work can begin right away. If not, a Shorten Labor Government will work with state and territory governments to deliver the necessary changes. 

The opportunities presented by the sharing economy are real, and they are right in front of us. With strong leadership and a focus on the future, we can ensure all Australians share in the benefits of change. 

This opinion piece was first published on The Huffington Post Australia’s website on Thursday, 22 October 2015