WHO REALLY IS TO BLAME FOR PETER COE’S DEATH?
by RAYMOND HOSER, President, Taxi Driver’s League.
On 4th February 1995 Taxi driver Peter Coe was brutally slain by two youths. Since that tragic death, there has been much in the media about how and why this man died. Unfortunately many of the true facts have been kept out of the papers and denied to the public. Most taxi drivers are aware of the circumstances pre-empting the attack on Coe and are disgusted with efforts by the Taxi Directorate, Victorian Government and others to whitewash the real reasons behind the increase in violence against taxi drivers which perhaps culminated in Coe’s death A summary of some of the media manipulation, lies and deception is given here.
Fare evasion and attacks against taxi drivers often go hand in hand. Someone decides not to pay the fare and when the taxi driver attempts to get payment, the evader gets violent. Associated with this are those who pull knives on drivers, rob them and related criminal acts. The two attacks on taxi drivers by the youths that killed Coe were not the first. Violence against taxi drivers in Melbourne has been going on for years and the incidence of it has been increasing steadily. For years myself and other drivers haven’t been saying ‘what if a taxi driver gets killed’ but rather ‘when’.
If you ask any experienced full-time taxi driver what is the reason for this steady increase in attacks on taxi drivers almost all will tell you the same thing. That is that Police and Vicroads (AKA Taxi Directorate) not only refuse to take action against those who bash and rob taxi drivers, thereby giving these criminals further encouragement, but they even side with them when taxi drivers themselves attempt to take action against these criminals.
Over the years I’ve become aware of several cases in Melbourne whereby taxi drivers have been charged with assault for either attempting to apprehend fare evaders (jumpers) or defend themselves against attacks. In a number of court cases I’ve attended, (including as defendant), I’ve seen Police and Vicroads (AKA Taxi Directorate) officials entice fare evaders to perjure themselves in court in order to convict innocent taxi drivers who have done no more than assert their rights. (In my own case, the current chief Solicitor of the VTD David Robbie, enticed a pair of fare evaders to perjure themselves in a failed attempt to convict me of assault). That perjury has since been openly admitted by one of them on publicly available, official court transcript!
In order to combat the rise in violence against taxi drivers, myself and several other drivers have attempted to meet the powers that be (namely Vicroads/VTD and politicians) for several years (since 1986) to discuss these issues. Without fail, these groups have refused to discuss the issues. A senior bureaucrat with Vicroads is on the record stating that taxi drivers must ‘expect’ to be attacked and that attacks and thefts are ‘an occupational hazard’. Try telling that to a Police officer. I for one don’t expect Police to be robbed or bashed. Nor do I expect the same of taxi drivers.
Since Jeff Kennett’s election as Victorian Premier, myself and others in the Taxi Driver’s League (a lobby group of over 200 professional drivers) has attempted to meet with him to discuss taxi industry problems, including violence against taxi drivers. While Kennett hasn’t hesitated to pull various media stunts to profess his alleged concern for the taxi industry, his rhetoric hasn’t matched his actions. He has point blank refused to meet myself or any other concerned drivers who wanted to raise the violence issue. Peter Toner, a taxi driver who was repeatedly refused an appointment to see Kennett, lived in his electorate, within walking distance of his Ashburton office and was even a paid up member of the Liberal Party. Roads and Ports Minister Bill Baxter and VTD officials also refused to discuss the issue of attacks on drivers, thefts, etc., with VTD staff on the record as stating that all attacks on drivers were provoked by the drivers themselves. While I’d be the first to agree that not all taxi drivers are saints, the philosophy emanating from VTD offices is beneath contempt.
In order to combat the violence against taxi drivers, myself and others wrote a number of letters to the papers seeking some form of action to combat the problem. Although most letters were screened out of the papers, some were printed (albeit heavily edited).
In response to my campaign for tougher action against the criminals who bash and rob taxi drivers, the current hierarchy at the Taxi Directorate attempted to drive me out of the industry (with periodic successes). At the time of his appointment as head of the renamed Taxi Directorate, Terry O’Keefe made much mileage out of a campaign to dob in a taxi driver for any alleged indiscretion, while choosing to ignore safety and other concerns of drivers.
At the end of 1994 and in January 1995, what may have been a record number of taxi drivers were bashed and robbed by passengers. Some were even locked in the boots of their cabs. Myself and two other taxi drivers in January wrote a number of letters seeking appointments with then Roads Minister Bill Baxter, Premier Kennett and the VTD to discuss their inaction over safety matters, including non-prosecution of those who bash and rob drivers. I personally have a massive number of files of cases where Police and VTD have refused to charge offenders, even when evidence against them is overwhelming and in many cases not even disputed!
I had a number of letters published in January 1995, just one month before Coe’s death calling for a change in attitude by the above authorities. A letter to this effect was printed on page 14 of the Herald-Sun on January 13, 1995, just a month before Coe’s death.
Instead of getting support from the authorities, Kennett and Baxter still refused to meet us, while the VTD people simply made a series of threatening/nuisance phone calls telling me to get off their case. (They were also unsuccessfully attempting to stop publication of a book detailing corruption in their department).
Following Coe’s tragic death on February 4, there was a mass meeting of taxi drivers at TWU house in South Melbourne, where five resolutions were made and passed unanimously. These were
1/ The immediate reversal of current Police practice of not taking action against those who rob and bash taxi drivers.
2/ Immediate introduction of a policy that Police must prosecute anyone who avoids paying taxi fares, assaults or robs a taxi driver, or who in any other way harasses a taxi driver.
3/ The IMMEDIATE DISMISSAL of Terry O’Keefe (Head of Victorian Taxi Directorate) and all others in the Victorian Taxi Directorate who were formerly employed by Vicroads.
4/ A 150 per cent tax write-off for all monies spent by taxi owners on taxi safety equipment such as barriers, alarms and so on.
5/ Immediate introduction of some sort of shields to protect taxi drivers who want shields.
Instead of adopting these resolutions, the State Government, in co-operation with the VTD went on a cynical damage control exercise which not only failed to address the key concerns of taxi drivers, but kept out of public sight the real concerns of Melbourne’s taxi drivers.
On the opposite side of town, Minister Bill Baxter called a press conference to announce his ‘new’ safety measures for taxi drivers. This was done in an attempt to negate the anger of taxi drivers and in the eyes of the media neutralise their protests. This tactic worked as Baxter managed to entice most media away from the TWU house meeting and get a clear run of the evening news Bulletins. His departmental media unit also made sure that the only material in the next days’ papers was what he and his minders wanted. No paper ran stories covering the five resolutions made by the taxi drivers. This was obviously not a chance happening. Incidentally, when Baxter’s so-called safety measures were read out to the TWU House meeting of drivers, it was greeting by loud booing.
In the March 1995 issue of Taxi Talk, the TWU printed a piece detailing ‘resolutions’ made at the conference. Not only were the alleged resolutions lies, but so too was most of the article. When I raised this matter with publisher of Taxi Talk Stan White, he said he’d been advised by Frank Hart (of Martin Meters) that the TWU piece was untrue, but that he’d printed it as they were paying him for advertising. Hart had attended the TWU house meeting, while White hadn’t. Both men are close friends and Hart had apparently given White an accurate account of what transpired.
A letter written by myself and signed by over 200 other drivers, detailing the exact resolutions passed at the TWU house meeting was sent to all major papers, Taxi Talk and others. An edited version of the letter was printed in the Age on 10th February 1995. The text of the (unedited) letter appears at the end of this article. While the letter was written more than a year ago, all the key points in the letter remain true today. Notably Stan White failed to print the letter in his magazine, even though he admitted in several conversations, he knew it’s contents were accurate.
Since Coe’s death, violence against taxi drivers continues. Baxter’s duress alarms have proved of little benefit to taxi drivers, while GPS, as good as it is, really only assists in finding a driver’s body after the attack, not in stopping the attacks. Police and VTD officials continue on the whole treat taxi drivers as ‘the enemy’ and soft targets to fine for the most menial of alleged indiscretions. Fare evaders and those who rob and bash drivers continue to get the green light to do as they please from Police and VTD officials.
Meanwhile, while taxi driver’s are constantly getting booked and harassed by Police for even the most minor of offences, many loosing their licences as a result, Premier Kennett is let off for doing over 140 kph on a main highway - an offence that would have cost me my licence, if not my liberty. In other words, double standards in the taxi industry remain the norm and while this goes on the risk of more attacks and untimely deaths of taxi drivers will remain unacceptably high.
Perhaps it’s also worth asking, what would have happened to Coe if he’d managed to defend himself against his attackers or even escape them. I have no doubt at all that he’d have been charged at least with assault. I know of several other drivers similarly charged. This surely is an indictment of those in charge of the VTD and that substantial number of Police who adopt similar policies towards taxi drivers.
(UNEDITED) TEXT OF LETTER PUBLISHED IN THE AGE NEWSPAPER ON 10TH FEB. 1995.
LETTER TO THE EDITOR .
We refer to the recent brutal slaying of taxi driver Peter Coe and the flurry of media activity since. Since the murder, it appears that State Transport Minister, Bill Baxter’s media office has been working in overdrive in a bid to cover-up for his inaction over taxi violence for some time. It is also notable that he refused to attend the meeting of over 300 rank and file taxi drivers on Monday February 6th which was specifically convened to discuss the violence against taxi drivers in Victoria.
Bill Baxter’s announcement that he will make duress alarms and boot releases mandatory falls far short of taxi driver’s demands and is best described as a political stunt for damage control.
There appears to have been a scarcity of reports in the media as to what the taxi drivers themselves wanted to combat the growing problem of violence against them. It is for this reason that we ask your paper to balance it’s reporting and publish this letter with the resolutions passed by an overwhelming majority of drivers at Monday’s meeting.
The resolutions passed were as follows:-
All but the fifth resolution were passed unanimously.
When the third resolution for Mr. O’Keefe’s removal was put to the meeting there was a standing ovation and cheering. Taxi drivers believe that their industry should be run by someone with recent taxi driving experience and not a career bureaucrat. Furthermore the appointment of Mr. O’Keefe as former licensing manager at Vicroads went directly against the recommendations of the all-party Crime Prevention Committee Report of 1993, which stated that Vicroads people should not run the taxi industry as they were not fit and proper to do so. The report documented corruption in the department with relation to taxis.
We also refer to a petition by over 700 taxi drivers in 1991, which called for similar measures to those above. Furthermore the introduction of the above resolutions will not only cost the government nothing (in the immediate term), but save money in the long term. The time to act is now - not after the next murder.
RAYMOND HOSER and over 200 other taxi drivers (names, addresses and signatures provided),
PO BOX 599,
DONCASTER, VIC, 3108.
(RAYMOND HOSER HAS DRIVEN A TAXI IN MELBOURNE FULL-TIME FOR OVER TEN YEARS. HE HAS ALSO WRITTEN A BOOK ABOUT CORRUPTION IN THE VICTORIAN TAXI DIRECTORATE AND POLICE, WHICH HAS BEEN RAISED IN PARLIAMENT SEVERAL TIMES. THAT BOOK IS CALLED THE HOSER FILES - THE FIGHT AGAINST ENTRENCHED OFFICIAL CORRUPTION. HOSER HAS ALSO WRITTEN SEVERAL OTHER BOOKS AND IS A WORLD RENOWNED ZOOLOGIST. HE WAS RECENTLY (NOVEMBER 1996) SUED FOR DEFAMATION OVER HIS BOOK SMUGGLED-2: WILDLIFE TRAFFICKING CRIME AND CORRUPTION IN AUSTRALIA. THE DEFAMATION SUIT WAS DISMISSED AND ALL COSTS WERE AWARDED IN HOSER’S FAVOUR. THAT NOBODY HAS SUCCESSFULLY SUED HOSER OVER WHAT HE PUTS IN HIS BOOKS, SPEAKS VOLUMES IN TERMS OF THE ACCURACY OF WHAT HE WRITES).