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A nudge and a wink and the taxi is on the boss

Date

Ross Cameron

Sussex Street cabs ... "Many workers see the odd Cabcharge freebie as a means to square the ledger."

Sussex Street cabs ... "Many workers see the odd Cabcharge freebie as a means to square the ledger." Photo: Brendan Esposito

Since the NSW Police announced an investigation into the Cabcharge claims of a member of the Federal Parliament, it would be improper to reflect on the merit of the allegations or the explanations offered. While we may be right to expect a high standard of elected officials, it is worth asking how pure is the average Australian in relation to use of this particular workplace entitlement?

Cabcharge has effectively created a second form of legal tender. It is popular because it solves a real problem. Many employers have an occupational health and safety obligation or a commercial need to give staff access to taxis and hire cars. Employers prefer not to issue corporate credit cards to junior staff or to constantly dole out petty cash. Cabcharge provides a form of payment to settle the cost of work-related travel with a category-limited card, paper voucher or e-ticket. The onus is on the user to reduce the risk of fraud by filling out the passenger name, the time and place of pick-up, the destination, the driver authority, the extras, the fare, the total in words and numbers. Failure to do so creates a risk of misuse by the driver, the passenger, the driver and passenger in collusion or someone to whom a voucher has been on-sold. ''Cabcharge fraud'' in a Google search produces more than 80,000 entries.

I recently asked the chief financial officer of a listed company spending $50,000 a month on Cabcharge, how much he was paying per kilometre for ground transport. He responded that he had no idea. I asked if there were other categories of spending above $50,000 a month where he had no idea what the company was getting for what it was paying. The company conducted a review of 1000 Cabcharge vouchers. In only 15 per cent of cases did the passenger fill in the pick-up location and destination, making it impossible to work out the distance travelled. The two most common journeys are ''city'' to ''suburbs'' and ''office'' to ''home". Most of that behaviour is sloppiness rather than dishonesty but Cabcharge usage patterns allow us to draw some inferences about the probity of your average Australian.

If you move from a payment process in which the distance travelled is opaque, to one in which it is clear (by GPS tracking, for example), the length of the average fare claimed will fall by 15-30 per cent. If the passenger is bearing the cost, the risk of fraud is low. If the employer is bearing the cost, the risk triples. If the employer is a government agency or an insurer, the risk doubles again.

Manual transactions are more risky than electronic. NSW Police recently convicted a taxi driver for $250,000 worth of Cabcharge fraud. The driver had become expert at taking blank paper vouchers from passengers travelling at their insurer's expense. The driver then inflated the cost of each journey. As the claims continued to be paid, the driver further inflated the costs, until he was submitting multiple dockets, for several hundred dollars each, every day - then heading down to the casino.

More common is the case of the banker who was entitled to a cab home if he finished work after 8pm. The employee formed a relationship with a driver who valued the regular fare. The pair would detour via the bottle shop on the way home each night where the driver paid cash for a bottle of wine and the passenger added that amount (plus tip) to the docket.

More common still is the issue of a voucher for a short work journey that is paid in cash and the voucher kept for a personal weekend trip. Many workers feel underpaid and unappreciated and apparently see the odd Cabcharge freebie as a means to square the ledger.

Australians rank well on any global corruption index. The evidence suggests about 10 per cent are virtually incorruptible, 10 per cent are strongly attracted to unlawful enrichment and the vast majority are usually honest but capable of being compromised if: 1. The opportunity is present. 2. The risk of getting caught is low. 3. The behaviour is tolerated or encouraged within a peer group.

We've all heard the adage, ''it's only a rort if you're not in it''. Let's frankly admit, a fair slice of the Australian workforce is in on this one.

ross.cameron@me.com

Ross Cameron is the executive chairman of a company that accepts Cabcharge as a form of payment.

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