23 June 2021

Ms TRISH DOYLE (Blue Mountains) (20:06): Tonight I draw attention to this Government's blatant discrimination against older members of my electorate of Blue Mountains. Seniors living across our region have been unjustly excluded from the Regional Seniors Travel Card program, with no reasonable explanation from those opposite as to why this exclusion has taken place. According to them, Blue Mountains is considered a metropolitan area—apparently nothing quite says urban jungle like a collection of small towns and villages surrounded by endless bushland in the middle of a national park. Of course, the suggestion that the mountains is a metro area is completely laughable, and it would almost be funny if it were not for the dire impact this has on my constituents.

One of my constituents who has been affected by this discriminatory practice contacted me recently to share his story. At nearly 70 years of age, Allan from Katoomba is not as mobile as he once was, before his battle with cancer. Allan needs a new pair of glasses but, as an age pensioner, he simply cannot afford the prices quoted by opticians. Seeking help with this problem, Allan sensibly contacted Service NSW to find out more about the NSW Spectacles Program, under which he is eligible for a free pair of glasses every two years. However, it turns out that the Government has not bothered to partner with any opticians within the Blue Mountains local government area to offer this service; the closest Spectacles Program partners are found in either Lithgow or Penrith. As it is difficult for Allan to use public transport in his condition, he is left with no option other than to drive himself to the optician. However, again due to his financial position, he struggles to find the spare funds to fill the tank with enough petrol for the nearly two-hour round journey down the mountain.

This Government could choose to help Allan like it has done for seniors in Government electorates, but it refuses. Of course, Allan is not the only person suffering from the Coalition's neglect of my community; my office hears on an almost daily basis from other seniors across the electorate who are baffled by their exclusion from this program. Seniors in the Blue Mountains are angry with this Government over this nonsensical decision, and they are demanding answers. They want to know why, if they lived in built-up areas of the Central Coast, 80 kilometres from the Sydney CBD, they would be eligible for this card but Allan in Katoomba, over 100 kilometres from the CBD, is ineligible. Residents in the small village of Mount Victoria want to know why they are ineligible for this scheme yet residents of Little Hartley, barely three kilometres away, are eligible.

Residents of the rural settlement of Mount Wilson want to know why they, despite being over two hours from the centre of Sydney, with no transport links and not so much as a grocery store, are deemed to live in a metropolitan area, while residents of Queanbeyan, a town of 30,000 people just 10 minutes out of Canberra, are considered regional enough to qualify. The double standards and inconsistencies in the selection of different regions for the Regional Seniors Travel Card are outrageous. In particular, it is disingenuous to classify regions as being metropolitan when they do not enjoy metropolitan amenities or facilities. The whole purpose of this program is supposed to be assisting seniors living in areas where they would regularly need to travel further than their city-based counterparts to access essential services.

The reality is that Blue Mountains residents do not enjoy a metropolitan level of access to most kinds of facilities and do regularly have to travel, and this is no more apparent in any sector than it is in health care. Under this Liberal-Nationals Government, our hospitals remain deeply under-resourced and underfunded. Local residents are regularly forced to travel to Lithgow or Penrith for treatments that should be available to them locally. While it would be good for the Berejiklian Government to do the right thing and properly resource our local health services in the first place, if it is not going to do that and instead choose to force people to travel it could at the very least cut our older residents a bit of slack and allow them to access the travel card scheme that it has set up to help people in these very situations. Given the lack of logic or sense to this decision, it seems to many of my constituents that this ongoing exclusion must be politically motivated.

They wonder whether our community is being punished for its failure to support the incumbent Government at recent elections and whether this is just another example of the blatant pork-barrelling that has consistently defined this Government's attitudes towards different parts of the State based on their voting patterns. Whatever the Government's motivations may be, it is clear that it has got this wrong. There is no justification for the arrogant and persistent determination it has shown to deny the seniors of my electorate access to this program. It is about time the Government put its obligations to the people of my community ahead of its own political self‑interest.