DISABLED CARERS RAIL TRAVEL
(Northcott) [5.50 p.m.]: I bring to the attention of the House an issue raised with me by a worker with disabled people in my electorate. Eligible disabled people and retirees are entitled to two return intrastate rail tickets each year. The entitlement of disabled people is akin to that of aged pensioners. Understandably, some disabled people, such as frail aged individuals, often find it impossible to travel unless accompanied by a carer who can make the environment in which they are travelling more disabled friendly. To do so currently requires the carers to take leave and either pay for the trip themselves or have the disabled persons or their family somehow contribute either fully or partly to the cost of the ticket and travel. I am informed that this difficulty results in many disabled people not taking up their State Rail entitlements.
Last year a disability worker brought this matter to my attention. His fairly sensible solution ould ensure that disabled people had access to one annual holiday per year, like many other people in the community. His suggestion was that one of the two trips available to the disabled person be converted for use by the carer. In this way, instead of being entitled to two return intrastate rail tickets each year, the disabled person would be entitled to one and the carer to one. The scheme had merit and it was a worthwhile policy objective for disabled people to have the same sorts of facilities as the rest of the community. I was attracted by the concept that the idea would be cost neutral because State Rail budgets for two return trip tickets to be allocated to each disabled person.
With some degree of optimism I raised the matter with the Minister for Transport and with the Minister for Community Services. I was disturbed and disappointed by their responses. State Rail's response, delivered through the Minister's parliamentary secretary, the honourable member for Canterbury, simply stated that it was not practicable to endorse the proposal. In support of this claim he put forward concerns about potential fraud and what he described as the additional administrative burden that would fall on the Department of Community Services. On the other hand, the Minister for Community Services argued that the cost of travel for carers should be met through the individual service plan or budget of each group home. All three arguments are excuses for not taking action to improve the ability of disabled people to travel.
If the parliamentary secretary for transport believes there would be an opportunity for fraud, I suggest he has a warped view of the world. In any case, it would not be too hard to detect fraud. I am sure even Commissioner O'Keefe would suggest that in this case State Rail could detect fraud. I suggest also that the honourable member for Canterbury check the existing pensioner travel scheme, which is far more susceptible to fraud and creates a bigger drain on State finances than the suggestion I am making to the House. I do not understand why extending the existing registration process for carers who work with disabled people to include travel should cost the Department of Community Services an extra cent. Surely it is not beyond the ken of departmental officers to work an administratively simple and effective scheme. If not, I would argue that limited expenditure in this area is more worthy than some recent examples of departmental spending.
The Minister for Community Services should examine a few individual service plans before he seriously suggests that funds from this source be used for carers' travel. The money is simply not
available. Most group homes are struggling to meet everyday costs without being forced to meet an additional cost of holiday travel. This brings me back to where I started. This idea is sensible and simple. It allows the disabled, particularly those more severely disabled, to take a break each year, which I suggest no-one would argue against. The idea should be cost neutral. State Rail offers two trips to eligible disabled people each year, which are not currently well used. This proposal would effectively use both tickets to enable a disabled person and the carer to have a once-a-year break. It would break down an existing barrier to this type of travel by the disabled. I am surprised that a Labor Government, which, in the past, has prided itself on its social justice credentials, would reject this sort of proposal.
(Kogarah - Minister for Transport, and Minister for Tourism) [5.55 p.m.]: I am surprised that the honourable member for Northcott did not have the decency to tell me he was raising this issue. When he was in a position of some power as chief of staff to the former Minister, he might have done something about it. I have listened to the honourable member's comments, though he has now rudely left the Chamber in the middle of my response. However, I am happy to have another look at the matter.