21 June 2022

Jodie Harrison MP spoke in NSW Parliament on 21 June on the Regional Seniors Travel Card and its arbitrary exclusion of some Charlestown constituents. 

I have spoken before in this place about Newcastle and Lake Macquarie being a tale of two cities under this Government. With a population of more than 210,000 people, Lake Macquarie is rightfully identified as regional city.

But the City of Newcastle local government area, which has a population of under 170,000, is not. When it suits the Government, Newcastle is a metropolitan city—usually because it will save it some money. When it does not suit the Government, Newcastle is a regional city— once again, usually because it will save the Government some money.

This has the impact of locking the entire local government area out of funding pools that are available to most of the rest of the State. This arbitrary choice has impacts for the city in a range of areas. But, for many residents of the Charlestown electorate, one of the most obvious and absurd is the exclusion of Newcastle residents from the regional seniors travel card program. Madam Temporary Speaker, I am sure that you know about this because your Wallsend constituents are equally affected.

Eligible residents of the Charlestown electorate in the Lake Macquarie local government area are able to access the card, but their neighbours up the street and across the road in Newcastle are not.

My office has been contacted by a woman who is the only member of her tennis club who is not eligible for the seniors travel card. Why is that? It is because her house is on the Newcastle side of the invisible dividing line between regional and non-regional. So her tennis club partners, who live literally streets away, have enjoyed multiple rounds of $250 cards while she is ineligible based solely on her address. She contacts my office regularly every time her friends get a new card issued to ask whether this arbitrary line has changed.

Unfortunately for her, it has not. While she has all the same cost-of-living pressures as her friends, she is not able to access the $250 to help ease the cost of travel—to pay for NSW TrainLink regional trains and coaches, and to pay the ever‑increasing fuel costs or for taxis.

Each year, when the new round of the regional seniors travel card is announced, I encourage my eligible constituents to take advantage of the scheme, because every little bit helps as the cost of living rises higher and higher. But each year I have to tell my constituents in Newcastle that, once again, this Government is failing them. Each year I raise this matter in the Parliament.

I have given a notice of a motion, I have spoken on the topic multiple times and I have asked questions on notice. I have written to the Minister asking for clarification, for action and for a little bit of hope for these people who are being hard done by, and still nothing has been done. In a show of their frustration with this policy decision, 11,000 locals signed a petition that the member for Wallsend, the member for Newcastle and I presented to this House for debate, but still nothing.

I share the frustrations of my constituents in the Newcastle local government area. I am getting tired of having to bring up this topic again and again while those opposite defend the indefensible.

The exclusion of the City of Newcastle residents has resulted in ridiculous divisions along the border between the two local government areas. How is it fair that people living in one part of Highfields can apply but the rest of the suburb cannot? How is it fair that residents living on one side of Boundary Street in Kotara South are able to access the travel card but their neighbours on the opposite side of Boundary Street in Kotara are not?

How is it fair that Adamstown is excluded but residents in large swathes of Adamstown Heights are not? It is patently absurd that residents at one end of a street, which happens to be in the Lake Macquarie local government area, are eligible for the travel card while residents at the other end of the street, which happens to be in the Newcastle local government area, are not.

The northern ends of some streets in Adamstown Heights, for example, are in Newcastle, and the southern ends are in Lake Macquarie. These streets are less than 500 metres long. Half the street is eligible, and the other half is not. It is unfair and it is arbitrary. It does not make sense and it flies in the face of good government. The Government must step up and ensure equality for all regional seniors. It must fix the Regional Seniors Travel Card. It has taken long enough.