Legislative Council: Wednesday, July 03, 2019



Seniors, Free Public Transport

Adjourned debate on motion of Hon. M.C. Parnell:

That this council calls on the state government to extend free public transport to seniors to include all weekday services as well as weekends and public holidays.

(Continued from 4 July 2018.)

The Hon. D.W. RIDGWAY (Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment) (16:44): It is a pleasure to speak on this particular motion. The Marshall Liberal government is developing and implementing a number of key public transport reforms to provide a better service to customers and drive patronage growth.

Some of the key public transport projects outlined in the 2019-20 state budget, as well as projects currently underway, include: the Gawler line electrification project, some $615 million; the extension of the Tonsley rail line to the Finders Medical Centre, $125 million; building new park-and-rides, $33.5 million; a new station on the Tonsley line, $8 million; the extension of 11 country bus contracts; the establishment of the South Australian Public Transport Authority (SAPTA); the tendering of both the new bus supply and bus services contracts; and the north-east transport study, exploring sending the O-Bahn to Golden Grove.

SAPTA was established on Monday, 1 July—so not that long ago actually—and it will be reviewing the fare structure. The current initiative that provides for free travel for seniors on the Adelaide Metro network is designed to provide cost-of-living relief for seniors whilst also balancing the capacity of the network. Currently, free travel for seniors applies during interpeak periods, that is between 9am and 3pm and after 7pm on weekdays and all day on weekends. During these times, patronage demands across the network is lower and therefore sufficient capacity is available to encourage seniors to travel during these times. During the am and pm peaks the network is operating at capacity with predominately commuters and schoolchildren who do not have the flexibility to travel at other times.

Expanding the free seniors travel initiative, particularly during peak periods, is likely to result in additional demand for services which may not be able to be accommodated. This would result in services either operating over capacity or passengers being left behind, including those seniors, to wait for the next scheduled service. For some routes this may require additional wait times of up to 30 minutes, depending on the route.

The current free seniors travel initiative does not apply to regional public transport services which has resulted in ongoing complaints from these passengers. Further extending this initiative and excluding regional areas will exacerbate this inequality between regional and metropolitan communities. With those few words, I indicate that the government will not be supporting the honourable member's motion.

The Hon. C.M. SCRIVEN (16:46): I thank the honourable member for moving this motion but the opposition will not be supporting the motion at this time. A fortunate situation for the opposition is that, unlike the Greens, the Labor Party is a party of government and is a party that South Australians have elected to government on numerous occasions.

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS: Point of order, Mr President.

The PRESIDENT: The Hon. Ms Franks.

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS: The Greens have held government in Tasmania and currently hold government in the ACT.

The PRESIDENT: Thank you, the Hon. Ms Franks. The Hon. Ms Scriven.

The Hon. C.M. SCRIVEN: In South Australia, as I said. With this responsibility in South Australia it means that all commitments need to be both costed and taken into consideration in the larger context of a state budget. It would be irresponsible of the opposition to proceed with such a proposal without fully costing such a policy.

Of course, it was a Labor government that introduced free public transport for seniors in non-peak times, so the existing free public transport was a Labor government initiative. The opposition is listening to the community in order to develop strong public policy in preparation for the next state election in 2022. This, of course, includes public policy in relation to public transport. The opposition will release policies relating to this matter in due course.

Labor has recently finished its Labor listening tour with the Leader of the Opposition, along with caucus and shadow cabinet members of the parliamentary Labor Party, and has engaged with the broader community over the last 12 months. We have engaged with South Australians in all 47 state electorates, along with key stakeholders in industries, and will continue to do so in the lead-up to the next state election and beyond.

Of course, as we on this side know, the former Labor government has a strong record when it comes to public transport, including the following: the O-Bahn tunnel which has made the commute for north-east users in and out of the city even quicker; the expansion of trams throughout the city; the electrified Seaford train line—all of these are examples—and the list goes on. This is in contrast, of course, to the current state government, which has an abysmal record when it comes to public transport. Its first 12 months in office has seen $47 million in cuts to public transport; the right-hand lane turn debacle that the member for Schubert has overseen; increases in fees and charges for public transport users; the cancelled Modbury park-and-ride expansion; bus routes being axed; and, of course, this week the revelation that the government intends to privatise our trains and trams. It is really no surprise that public transport users think the Marshall Liberal government hates public transport.

As I said earlier, the opposition will generate strong policies in the lead-up to the next election and these will be announced in due course. I thank the honourable member for moving this motion but, again, point out that the opposition will not be supporting it at this time.

The Hon. F. PANGALLO (16:49): I rise on behalf of SA-Best to speak in support of the Hon. Mark Parnell's motion calling on the government to extend free public transport to all weekday services, not just during non-peak times, as well as weekends and public holidays. South Australia's senior citizens are feeling the pinch, with the highest electricity prices in the nation and cost-of-living pressures ever-increasing. The decision this week to privatise our trains and trams leaves me with no doubt that fares will increase for commuters and further disadvantage our senior citizens.

Last year, before the election, Premier Steven Marshall said the Liberal Party 'doesn't have a privatisation agenda'. Privatising trains and trams is a blatant broken promise by the Marshall Liberal government. It is the privatisation of trains and trams today and the privatisation of SA Pathology is on the horizon as well. One must ask, 'What's next?' Here are just a couple of comments by readers of InDaily on the privatisation announcement:

Here we go again.

Liberal government privatised Electricity Trust with the same lies er, promises.

Telling us the same storyline with the recent prison hive off. And now comes public transport.

Let us do away with politicians and privatise Parliament.

If they don't perform then seek new operators by the proven method, as all voters know from the electricity con.

That was written by Anthony Leahy. From another reader:

The lowest satisfaction rate for our transport systems is 80% for the privately-run buses.

At 87% (trains) and 91% (trams), these services are deemed so poor by the neo-cons that run the State Government that we must hand them over to the usual suspects.

By this calculation, surely the government must resign and call an election.

Unless of course they can demonstrate a satisfaction rating considerably better than our A-rated public transport system.

That was written by Ross Heitmann. Currently, you just cannot trust this government to do the right thing for South Australians, including providing incentives to the elderly members of our society to keep active and get out of their homes. The privatisation of our trams and trains should have been put to voters at the election. This is a government that prides itself on accountability and transparency. Spare me!

The Hon. Mark Parnell had the initiative contained in his motion costed by the Parliamentary Budget Advisory Service at the last election. The advice received from the PBAS is that the cost of seniors travelling for free at a time when they would currently have to pay a concession fare is about $1.5 million a year. In my view, $1.5 million is a miserly amount for the government to wear to provide free public transport at all times to all Seniors Card holders.

A cost-benefit analysis would no doubt demonstrate the many benefits of providing such an investment, including enabling more seniors to use public transport for travelling, engaging with the community, spending money, meeting friends and continuing to experience an enriched quality of life, which could only be further enhanced as a result of such a great initiative. Research conducted by Dr Helen Feist and her team at the Australian Population and Migration Research Centre at the University of Adelaide back in 2016 proved the innumerable benefits of providing free transport to seniors. Dr Feist acknowledged that:

On average, we found that Seniors Card holders are making more than 150,000 rides on public transport in the Adelaide metropolitan area every week.

She also acknowledged that:

Most activities of daily living—such as shopping and paying the bills—are conducted in the local neighbourhood and involve other forms of transport. However, public transport is often used for other life-enriching activities, such as volunteering or civic and social engagements, going to the movies, visiting friends, or travelling to the city for a day out.

We should be doing everything in our power, using every opportunity available, to encourage the independence and mobility of our senior citizens so that they stay engaged with the community and the world around them, and not limit them to the four walls in their homes. The initiative by the Hon. Mark Parnell is one way to achieve that noble goal. I commend the Hon. Mark Parnell for his motion, and with those few words I commend the motion to the council.

The Hon. M.C. PARNELL (16:55): Just briefly, by way of summary, I thank the Hon. Clare Scriven, the Hon. David Ridgway and the Hon. Frank Pangallo for their contributions, and particularly thank SA-Best for supporting the motion; it is clear that it does not have the support of the old parties.

I want to put a couple of things on the record: first, to make it abundantly clear that we did get this policy costed—the parliamentary budget office costed it prior to the last state election. I can provide the detailed charts to members if they want, but, as I have said, it is about $1.5 million a year. Given that the amount we are spending on roads and freeways is in the billions of dollars, we are talking about less than a thousandth of that.

As the Hon. Frank Pangallo said, there is a range of reasons why seniors are travelling during peak period, but there is one that had not actually struck me until quite recently. I have become friends with a family from Pakistan. They have recently arrived in Australia and they are undertaking their English language courses at TAFE, which is great. They have the initiative to try to learn (they already speak some English) or to better learn the language of their new country.

The TAFE classes start at 9.30, but the family need to be on the train before 9 o'clock in order to get to class on time, so they are paying a fare, including their elderly mother who does have a Seniors Card and can travel free on the interpeak. Given that we are talking about a family that has arrived in South Australia with very little, it seems mean that an older person travelling to English classes at TAFE has to pay on their trip into town.

I am disappointed that neither of the old parties see fit to support this motion. I remind members that all of the seniors groups and social welfare groups have called for an initiative such as this, and I expect that, when the 2022 election rolls around, we will certainly be putting it back on our policy manifesto.

It has occurred to me in the meantime that I might join my Labor colleagues standing at the top of the ramp of Adelaide Railway Station, and they can hand out their flyers condemning the Liberal government for privatising the trains and I can hand out some flyers condemning both Liberal and Labor for not supporting free travel for seniors. I am disappointed that this will not pass today, but it will be back and I will make sure that all the seniors groups in South Australia are made aware of the result of today's motion.

Motion negatived.