If you happen to be reading this somewhere else in the world but you're about to come and live in Australia, or you've just arrived here, pause when it comes to buying a car. If anyone mentions a novated lease – get your unbeatable tax savings here! – turn and run like the clappers. Do not touch it. Anything but. At the top of a long list of faults is the fact that it will encourage you to drive unnecessary kilometres, use more fuel – increase your carbon footprint here! – and worry to death about having to pay back tax because you haven't reached your kilometre target. (If you are currently losing sleep over the latter, I am reliably informed you can drive from Brisbane to Adelaide and back in only six days.)
Fortunately we have just extricated ourselves from this iniquitous system – but not without paying a penalty. We have just bought a new car and freed ourselves from the tyranny of novated leasing.
If you come here to live from the UK, as a temporary resident on a 457 visa, you will be able to drive on your UK licence. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise. Some people say – and not even all Queensland police know the rules – that you can only drive on it for three months, but that is if you are becoming a permanent resident. (I should perhaps add that I am talking about Queensland. There is no national driving licence here: every state has its own licencing system. If you move state, you'll need a new licence.)
There is nothing to stop you getting a Queensland driving licence if you want one – as long as you reside in the state and can prove it. But it costs – $50 a year. It will, however, be useful for ID purposes. To breathe air in this country you have to be able to verify who you are. They use a points system: a passport gets you loadsa points; an Australian firearm licence gets you quite a lot; an Australian Defence Force or police photo ID card, and an Australian photo driver licence are all good; a Medicare card not bad. We always seem to have been scrabbling around a bit for points, especially when we first arrived and didn't have any utility bills with our address on.
Before we picked up the new car, and discovered that roadside recovery was included in the deal, we researched the possibilities. I started with RACQ, having been with the RAC in the UK for miles and miles, although there is no connection between the two organisations. We chose which of four cover options we wanted (level 3, of 4) and off I trotted to the RACQ office in the CBD. A nice lady started to fill in my details on her computer. I had with me my passport, several bits of paper to show that I live where I live, credit and other cards, and my UK licence.
Then she asked for my Queensland driving licence. We went through the usual rigmarole. I don't need one; my UK licence is perfectly legal, etc etc. Ah yes, that's as may be, but for the cover option I've chosen, I need a Queensland licence. I don't need it for the most basic level of cover, or the most expensive, but I need it for either of the middle two. Why? I asked.
I am long used to asking for a reason when faced with an incomprehensible rule blocking my progress in Australia. I have asked Why? in the post office and ANZ bank and mobile phone shops and at the garage and the airport and the doctor's surgery. Very rarely can people answer the question. They've never thought about it before, or so it would appear. They just know it's a rule, and that's that. 'Rules are rules', said the irritating Jetstar flight attendant when he refused the free drink I'd been promised. Some of them look a bit startled, as if they're not at all used to Why? Others look downright defensive, however politely I ask.
No one at RACQ could explain why I needed a Queensland driving licence for two levels of cover but not the others. I was baffled. And so were the two (by this time) nice ladies helping me. They tried their best to get around the problem. Could I give the membership as a gift to my friend? No, said RACQ HQ. Could I get membership on the basis of an international licence? No, said RACQ HQ. The nice ladies really tried and were very sorry they couldn't help me. In the end, HQ cobbled together some excuse about being advised to have these rules by their business management corporate planning executive (or somesuch).
Finally, the nice ladies suggested that a Queensland driving licence might not be such a bad idea, and that the Department of Transport and Main Roads was only 50 metres down the road. I have been thinking about it for some time, and was on the point of making up my mind to bite the bullet and get on with it when I walked in and saw this.
I looked at all the pretty pastel colours of the forms. And then I walked out and headed for the CityCat.