Labor is demanding answers after National Minister Paul Toole confirmed the Regional Seniors Travel Card has more than doubled its budget, in just the program’s first month.
According to State Budget and Parliamentary Budget Office figures, the Liberals and Nationals only budgeted $21.8 million for the first year of the $250 transport and fuel rebate card.
However today the Liberals and Nationals were forced to make a humiliating admission in Budget Estimates that in the first month of the program they have spent $45 million – an extra $23 million – signing up 180,000 seniors, more than doubling the entire year’s budget for the program.
The Nationals Minister could not confirm what other programs within the Transport budget would be stripped of funding in order to pay for the growing blow-out.
In an embarrassing performance, the Minister also refused to apologise for misleading voters over the scheme during the election, including in his own electorate.
The Minister further insulted seniors with disability, and carers by saying that he included veterans in the scheme – after first excluding veterans with a Gold Card – because they are “worthy,” but again ruled out expanding the program to include seniors on a Disability Support Pension or carers payment.
Labor Shadow Minister for Seniors, Jo Haylen said: “The National Minister’s embarrassing performance has shown again that this is not the card the Nationals promised and was always about them saving their seats in the bush.
“His refusal to apologise for lying to vulnerable seniors who are missing out is just offensive. Meanwhile he’s failed to budget the cash for those seniors who have applied.
“The Liberal Treasurer appears to have given the Nationals a blank cheque for this program at a time when we know the budget is under pressure.
“This embarrassing blow out in the first month of the program shows the total incompetence of the Liberals and Nationals. They just can’t manage the budget.”
The cost blow-outs on this program are unlikely to stop anytime soon, with Mr Toole admitting that as many as 400,000 seniors could still apply, and that new applications were happening every day.
“Labor first warned the Liberals and Nationals that this program would blow out in September last year, forecasting more than $135 million in additional costs to the State’s budget the Liberals and Nationals hadn’t planned for,” said Ms Haylen.
The program has infuriated the community, with the roll-out of the program delayed and Service NSW offices overwhelmed with frustrated seniors who have to wait for at least 6 weeks for the card to be sent out. Seniors in receipt of a DSP or carers pension have been excluded, as have seniors living in Newcastle, the Blue Mountains and Wollongong, despite election material pitching the card to all regional seniors.
Ms Haylen has referred the program both to the NSW Electoral Commission and to the Auditor-General.