In October 2015, ride-sharing app Uber was given the green light to operate in the Australian Capital Territory. It was followed by New South Wales in December and before long, Uber was no longer operating illegally in Australia. It had been operational on Aussie roads before that, of course, but that’s when the respective state governments came to the party, giving Uber legal permission to drive people around.
The relationship Uber had with regulatory bodies in the states and territories was tumultuous at best, and there were crackdowns, protests from taxi drivers and even a class action. At the time, it felt like I was writing an update on Uber’s Australian push almost daily. And now, new information revealed by The Guardian shows that Uber allegedly new it was operating illegally when it launched in Australia and lobbied governments to legalise its platform.
As The Guardian put it: it is a tactic the company has used repeatedly in markets around the world – launch first, establish a loyal customer base and then lobby aggressively for laws to be changed.
Earlier this week, The Guardian published a stunning report detailing the blatantly unethical activity Uber engaged in to become a juggernaut among tech startups. The report sourced information from a massive leak of 124,000 confidential documents from inside the company. The leaks demonstrate how Uber strong-armed local regulators and national governments to allow the transportation startup to expand its services around the globe. Uber executives, including co-founded Travis Kalanick, met with presidents, prime ministers and other government officials around the world.
But the Australian-specific article details further stats, such as that before the service was given the green light to operate, Sydney had become its seventh and Melbourne its eighth biggest “unprotected” market. Further documents, The Guardian says, show that Uber staff were asked to “ramp up their lobbying efforts”.
The publication quotes Corey Owens, Uber’s head of public policy, as saying, “Ops has poured gasoline on the fire, so now it’s up to us to protect what they’ve built”.
Uber has responded to the document leak, in a statement explaining that hiring its new CEO, Dara Khosrowshahi, is helping to transform “every aspect of how Uber operates”.
“Uber is now one of the largest platforms for work in the world and an integral part of everyday life for over 100 million people,” the statement, penned by Jill Hazelbaker, SVP of marketing and public affairs at Uber, said.
“We’ve moved from an era of confrontation to one of collaboration, demonstrating a willingness to come to the table and find common ground with former opponents, including labour unions and taxi companies. We are now regulated in more than 10,000 cities around the world, working at all levels of government to improve the lives of those using our platform and the cities we serve.”
Although this isn’t an Australia specific statement, the sentiment trickles down to our part of the world where the allegations of Uber operating illegally have this week come to light.
“We have not and will not make excuses for past behaviour that is clearly not in line with our present values,” it said. “Instead, we ask the public to judge us by what we’ve done over the last five years and what we will do in the years to come.”
This article has been updated since it was first published.