As readers with an interest in the taxi business might well know, there are aspects of the industry that are rather dodgy and anti-competitive, to say the least. In such context, Macquarie Bank’s attempted entry into the racket looked like a welcome change, but now questions are being raised about its methods that might suggest MacBank will be right at home in the ring with Cabcharge et al.

Last week Katrina Nicholas had a two-page slash at Cabcharge and the NSW taxi monopoly in the AFR, but that seems to have brought another story out of the woodwork – allegations that Macquarie stole the concept of its Lime Taxis handicapped fleet from an entrepreneur who took the idea to Macquarie hoping for raise capital.

The story echoes the case of farmer Brian Locke who sued Macquarie Bank in 1997 over breach of confidentiality regarding an irrigation infrastructure proposal he took to the bank. NSW independent MP Tony Windsor gave Macquarie Bank’s legal tactics a spray in parliament in 2001 and Locke featured in a Sunday story about the less admirable aspects of the Millionaires’ Factory. The case was eventually settled in 2003.

This time the protagonist is Chris Burrell of UniCab. Nicholas reports Burrell and business partner Jacob Baldwin developed the handicapped taxi fleet idea and took it to Tourism NSW in 2004. Tourism NSW suggested it be taken to Macquarie Bank. Nicholas writes:

Introductions were easy to arrange, considering former federal tourism minister John Brown was a consultant to Macqaurie Bank at the time and current Lime Taxies CEO Stephen Albin was then deputy chief executive of the Tourism Taskforce.

The mass of documents collected by UniCab in the two years since negotiations began include a reference written by Mr Albin recommending Mr Burrell and his idea.

The story goes downhill from there, with UniCab eventually left out in the cold as Macquarie Bank launched Lime Taxis with the backing of Lindsay Fox and John Brown.

UniCab claims a three-year non-disclosure agreement with Macquarie Bank had been breached and its original idea stolen. A MacBank spokeswoman said the concept was Brown’s and he took the idea to MacBank executive Bill Moss who suffers from muscular dystrophy.

The only sure thing is that anyone trying to take on Macquarie in the courts needs to have access to plenty of money to fight the case – as Locke and others have discovered.

Peter Fray

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