ESTIMATES COMMITTEE B
Friday 22 June 2007
Mrs Smith (Chair)
MAINLAND USE OF SENIORS CARD
Mr FINCH - There is a question I would like to ask. It is about the Seniors Card. It was somebody who was new to the seniors card operation who was in Melbourne, had a bit of loose change in his pocket and was quite embarrassed when his Seniors Card did not enable him to travel at the rate that he wanted to. Is there any intention to develop a reciprocal entitlement agreement between the States?
Ms O'BYRNE - We provide concessional travel for seniors cardholders from all States and Territories on the same basis that we do with Tasmanian cardholders. There is no formal reciprocal agreement between the States and Territories in relation to public transport concessions. In fact, the majority of others do not provide transport concessions to all seniors cardholders but most do provide them to those who are in the receipt of a Commonwealth Pensioner ConcessionCard. So if your friend had had that, for instance, that would most likely have been accepted.
In order to get a reciprocal transport agreement, we need agreement between every single State. We have given in-principle support to that - we think that would be a fantastic idea - but, as you will see as I go through this, there are some reasons others might not think that.
A reciprocal transport agreement has not received support of the larger States, particularly New South Wales and Victoria, and that is why the reciprocal agreement negotiations stalled. The only interstate transport services that formally agreed to recognise the Tasmanian Seniors Card are CountryLink and Traveltrain, CountryLink in New South Wales, Traveltrain in Queensland, Darwin bus in the NT and Ausbus in the NT.
The lack of national uniformity has been seen as an anomaly by some cardholders, and particularly self- funded retirees who are often in a difficult position. But those Seniors cardholders who also hold a Pensioner Concession Card generally do get it and that is the anomaly, that many are self-funded retirees.
On 2001-02 the Federal Government, in its budget announcement, said it was going to develop a reciprocal agreement with all States to provide concessions, particularly on public transport. We gave support for that. There were a range of conditions that were put around the proposal. that the funds would be accepted as compensation for the costs associated with the current provision of reciprocal transport concessions for interstate Seniors cardholders in metropolitan areas only and would not imply any extension of the concessions that are currently provided. But the acceptance of the funding offer did not imply the extension of State Government funding support for concessional travel by local or interstate Seniors cardholders on rural bus services and that any extension of the current concession entitlements that is under the scope or the quantum initiated by the Commonwealth would be fully funded by the Australian Government. The larger States, New South Wales and Victoria, declined the offer on the basis that it was going to be too costly for their concession systems, given the assumptions on which the funding offer was based and that the offer was time limited. So it was a specific time limit of funding from the Commonwealth and it was less than it would cost them in order to progress the system. The national agreement did not go through and the Commonwealth withdrew its offer in the 2005-06 budget rather than giving the additional funding that would have resulted in reciprocity.
The National Seniors Association are currently campaigning - and I think campaigning quite strongly - for the Australian Government to introduce travel concessions Australia-wide in this Federal election campaign. This will cost an unknown amount of money unless the Federal Government says they will cover it all the time in order to allow reciprocity which is an issue for the larger States. This is unlikely to happen because, as our population ages, the number of people qualifying for the concession will increase so there is an unknown budget quantum for it. I think that is the biggest stumbling block.
We, in Tasmania, are very supportive but we are a small State and can probably manage the cost structures, whereas New South Wales and Victoria have no idea what amount of money they would need to set aside. Lobby groups are hoping that the Feds will take it on as a Federal Government responsibility to be paid for out of their surplus. As much as I would love to see it happen and I know that it would make a really big difference, I can understand the position of the larger States because the Commonwealth has only allocated limited funding which would run out after a couple of years. It is a good idea, though. If they have the other concession card, they should pull that one out too.
Mr FINCH - I will be using a lot of buses and trams soon.
Hon. Michelle O'Byrne , Minister for Community Development; Minister assisting the Premier on Local Government