Just not fare: Outback NT cabbies accused of rip-offs and dodgy tactics

Aboriginal people rest in the shade beside the Gove taxi rank.ABC News: Matt Garrick

Accusations of misconduct have been levelled against the taxi industry in a remote Northern Territory town, including credit cards being "held hostage" and a driver selling a pack of cigarettes to a passenger for $75.

Key points: Aboriginal people petition against taxi rip-offs in Gove Accusations of Basics Cards being "held hostage" Cab companies deny allegations, blame competitors

Residents of the Gove Peninsula have detailed allegations about the rip-offs and dodgy tactics they said were being employed by drivers in the region over a long period of time.

Tourism operator Djawa "Timmy" Burarrwanga said there had been widespread reports of taxi drivers holding onto the Basics Cards and credit cards of Yolngu passengers who did not immediately have the funds to pay for a ride.

"It's been long now, and it's been abusing our family members and our people in Gove Peninsula," Mr Burarrwanga said.

The ABC has copies of a petition complaining against taxi driver conduct, signed by more than 250 residents of Nhulunbuy, Wallaby Beach, Ski Beach, Yirrkala and homelands across the region.

Photo A petition calling for a formal complaint against taxi drivers in Nhulunbuy.

Documents, parts of a petition, together in a stackABC News: Matt Garrick

The accusations come at a time when the two main taxi operators in town, Gove Transport and Gove Taxi Services, are embroiled in a fierce rivalry currently being investigated by the NT's Organised Crime and Drugs division.

The Infrastructure Department has also confirmed its staff were "working collaboratively with police to investigate allegations of misconduct in the taxi industry in the Gove area".

Both taxi operators have denied involvement in any allegations, but both blamed their competitor for misconduct.

Basics Cards 'being held hostage'

Photo Gumatj man Djawa "Timmy" Burarrwanga says taxi drivers have been responsible for misconduct.

Aboriginal man stands in front of fieldABC News: Matt Garrick

A common allegation was of passengers' Basics Cards — the welfare cards meant to be spent on necessities like shopping — being held by drivers until the next payment came through, with some allegedly taking more money from the account than the agreed-upon fare.

"They're taking some cards and pin numbers … for nearly two months or three months," Mr Burarrwanga said.

Gunyangara resident Marrayilyil Yunupingu said her family members had given over their key cards to taxi drivers who would "take all the money, leave not even one cent in the bank".

Ali Azzopardi, a former women's activities leader for Miwatj Employment and Participation (MEP), said she had received numerous reports of cards being "held hostage" until the fortnightly payments came through.

"They have to go to the cab driver and get their Basics Card back, which is terrible, because it means they have no money for food, they're being highly ripped off," she said.

Nhulunbuy MLA Yingiya Mark Guyula, who raised the issue of East Arnhem taxi misconduct in NT Parliament this week, said he'd had around 10 people come to complain about Basics Card issues, including "theft of more money than was agreed upon from the card".

Photo Yingiya Mark Guyula raised the issue of Gove taxi misconduct in NT Parliament on Wednesday.

Yingiya Mark GuyulaABC News: Avani Dias Accusation of black market cigarette sale

A recent incident took place in Nhulunbuy, Ms Azzopardi alleged, where a Yolngu woman purchased a packet of cigarettes from a taxi driver for the "exorbitant price" of $75.

"Which was absolutely astounding — because it was out of hours, because they could use their Basics Card there — you're not meant to use Basics Cards to buy cigarettes," she said.

When asked if she knew of any official complaints being lodged against the taxi firms in Nhulunbuy, Ms Azzopardi said it was not "Yolngu style to complain".

"They would rather keep quiet and shy away from things," she said.

"I only know this information because I work very closely with women in the running of women's activities within the community.

"And also, Yolngu are not completely aware of what an absolute rip-off a taxi ride for $80 for 18 minutes is, or how unfair it is to be charged $75 for a packet of cigarettes on a card that is meant for basic needs like food for your family."

Mr Guyula said many of those who had complained to him "did not want to approach the police".

"I think this issue of misconduct is ongoing," Mr Guyula said.

"I met with local police [in September] to discuss my concerns and talk about the hesitation of people who had experienced misconduct to talk with police … I think there needs to be a way of investigating this issue even though people do not want to go through the police."

Cab companies deny allegations

Gove Taxi Services director Ali Al Jenakki, who started the business in the region nine months ago, denied his drivers were behind any of the allegations of misconduct.

"Never, we're not doing this ... it's not from us," Mr Al Jenakki said.

Photo Director of Gove Taxi Services Ali Al Janakki at his Nhulunbuy home.

Gove Taxi Services director Ali Al Janakki leans on a table and looks at the camera.ABC News: Matthew Garrick

Gove Transport director Kais Al Selawi also denied that his drivers were involved in any cases of misconduct towards Yolngu passengers.

"Impossible — I've told my drivers from the beginning, when we get the Basics Card facility in our company, I said, 'you do something wrong, you'll be kicked out'," Mr Al Selawi said.

"Drivers say, 'we're not going to get Basics Card just for $50 or $100, or we'll lose our job'."

Both operators said they had heard reports of Yolngu passengers having their Basics Cards ripped off, but both blamed their competitor for such instances.

A third company, Nhulunbuy Transport Services, which operates bush taxis in the region, also denied involvement in any allegations.

Nhulunbuy Transport Services director Vicky Turner said her company was "completely differently from the town taxi".

"There is a difference between the town taxi and my bush taxi, because my bush taxi drivers are Yolngu," Ms Turner said.

"We've never had those kind of issues."

The NT Police's Organised Crime and Drug division has been investigating the rivalry between the two companies after Mr Al Selawi was brutally beaten on his front porch earlier this month.

Video 0:17 Taxi driver assault in Nhulunbuy

Taxi driver assault in NhulunbuyABC News

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