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Labor takes aim at Seniors Card promise

Wednesday, 22nd January, 2020

Minister for Regional Transport and Roads Paul Toole, Shadow Minister for Seniors Jo Haylen. Minister for Regional Transport and Roads Paul Toole, Shadow Minister for Seniors Jo Haylen.

By Callum Marshall

A stoush between NSW Nationals and Labor over a $250 seniors travel card has emerged, with Labor criticising the Nationals timing of its rollout.

The Regional Seniors Travel Card was announced as a pre-election commitment by the Nationals before last year’s state election.

The cards allow eligible seniors living in regional, rural and remote areas of the state to acquire a $250 prepaid card that helps ease their cost of travel with discounts on fuel and taxis and pre-booked TrainLink regional train and coach services.

The cards were meant to have rolled out this month but the upcoming January 29 date only marks the beginning of the application process.

The Service NSW website highlights that cards will be distributed from mid-February.

Barwon MP Roy Butler, of the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers party, said the rollout of the cards should’ve been a straightforward thing. 

“It was an election commitment (so) I’m confident they’ll deliver on it,” he said.

“But I don’t have any explanation as to why it’s delayed.”

Before the election, the Parliamentary Budget Office costed the seniors travel cards at $90,347 over a four year budgetary period, with the costing informed by Treasury modelling which assumed a take-up rate of 40%.

On that take-up though, Mr Butler said he’d hoped everyone eligible for the cards would eventually be able to get one.

“If they’ve made a commitment during an election that if they return to government they’re going to issue something or do something, they have to do it,” he said.

“What’s an election commitment worth if they’re not going to follow through? 

“What else are they not going to follow through on if they don’t issue these cards to everyone who’s eligible?

“I think people will be watching very closely to make sure that everyone whose eligible is able to access one and that they are delivered.”

He said the cards would be very important for a number of people across the electorate.

“I’m in Tilpa at the moment, and there’d be people who live out around here and Louth who’d be eligible for it,” said Mr Butler.

“$250 mightn’t seem like a lot of money to some but to somebody who’s on a very limited, fixed income it might make the difference between being able to travel for shopping and appointments and not being able to travel.

“Without the ability to travel for those appointments (that) can have negative health aspects. 

“There can be a whole lot of issues with it.”

With ongoing drought and bushfires a concern across the state as well, the delay to mid-February was criticised by the Shadow Minister for Seniors Jo Haylen.

“Some people in rural and regional NSW are struggling with fires, with so many services displaced seniors in particular will find it a challenge to do things like get to and from doctor appointments or doing groceries,” she said.

“The lack of information and delay to the travel card is just another way the Nationals are dragging their feet, when they should be providing vital support and services to seniors in drought and fire affected communities.”

Minister for Regional Transport and Roads Paul Toole shot back at Labor’s comments though, saying Labor had refused to match the Nationals policy during the election and were now complaining that the cards weren’t here fast enough.

“The Regional Seniors Travel Card is yet another example of the NSW Liberals and Nationals Government delivering for rural and regional NSW,” he said.

“We promised to launch the card in January, and we are doing just that. 

“We are running a three-week pilot in Coffs Harbour to ensure every step of the process is a smooth and hassle-free experience for both seniors and retailers in the bush.

“Eligible regional seniors will be able to apply from Wednesday, 29 January and will have a minimum of 12 months to use their card from the time of activation.”

With bushfires damaging power lines and mobile towers in some parts of the state, preventing individuals from accessing the internet and applying for the cards online, the Opposition also criticised the Nationals for not considering posting the cards to all eligible seniors.

However, Mr Toole responded by saying a mass mail out wasn’t possible. 

He also added that all eligible applicants would receive their $250 card.

“A mass mail-out simply isn’t possible for a product of this kind as it is a prepaid Visa card with the customer’s details printed on it,” he said.

“We have to verify each senior’s eligibility then, for security purposes, the card and the PIN are mailed separately on different days. 

“I can assure NSW’s regional seniors that every eligible applicant will receive their $250 card, and nobody will miss out.

“Seniors can apply online at service.nsw.gov.au, in person at a NSW Service Centre or by calling 13 77 88.”

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