National transport card a sensible step to ease burden on students
Posted March 01, 2016
CATHY McGOWAN (Indi) (18:06): Tonight I would like to talk about the need for a national student travel concession card. It is an issue that is dear to the heart of the young people living in my electorate of Indi, particularly the young people who are caught in the cross-border anomaly of wanting to study interstate. Let me outline what the procedure is. We have a national issue here that works to the disadvantage of not only young people but all people who want to study. It is particularly relevant in my electorate, but right across Australia are people who live in one area and study in another. Let me explain what happens now. Travel concession cards are issued by the tertiary institution in which a student is enrolled and they are only applicable for travel within the state or territory of that institution. For example, a student from Indi in north-east Victoria who enrols to study in Albury across the border, or Canberra or Sydney, for example, cannot get a concession on public transport travel to and from their home town.
There has been a whole lot of work done on this in the past, but it seems to have gone off the agenda, so my call tonight is that we seriously need to put the need for a national student travel concession card back on the national agenda. There has been recognition in the past that student income support has been inadequate to cover the costs of all the things that students need: accommodation, food, bills and transport. There was a Senate Standing Committee on Education, Employment and Workplace Relations inquiry into student income support in 2005. There was also an interjurisdictional working group established in October 2011 to examine reciprocal recognition of student concessions between states. However, there was no evidence of any meeting actually taking place. There is a perception that, while people can talk about this, the idea of a national student concession card is a good idea, but it is a practical nightmare because it requires all states and territories to sign up and agree to standardise their concessions.
Surely we are mature enough as a nation on this particular issue—and with all the discussion about Federation—that we could work together to do something which would make such a big difference to the lives of so many students. It appears that the challenge of achieving recognition of concession cards across jurisdictions may be perceived to be too hard, but I believe this is a perception. In reality, there are so many areas where we work across states and we have national regulations, so I know that we could absolutely do it, but it would require political will. As a really good example, in 2009 the Commonwealth government supported senior cards and pension cards and made the national partnership agreement to compensate the different states for any loss of income. They recognised senior cards, pension cards and travel concessions across jurisdictions, so we have a model for pension cards and senior cards that works. Why couldn't we apply this to student cards?
This issue has particularly come to my mind now because students in my community are going back to study. We have had O-week, and students are now getting underway with their pathways to their careers. Money is always short; students are all looking for part-time jobs. Many of my local community from Wodonga and Wangaratta have come up here to Canberra to study, and they find that, once the ANU or the University of Canberra issues concession cards, these are not valid in Victoria. What makes that so hard? Surely we just have to agree to get that happening.
I went to the Library—that fantastic research facility we have here—and said, 'Can you give me some background on what's going on here,' and they said, 'Yeah, it often comes up, but we've never been able to get any movement on it.' What I have discovered is that it is not just student concession cards that are the issue. International students, depending on their visa, have particular issues. Different states and different visas have different rules about whether or not international students can get concession cards. There are absolutely no concession cards at all for travel for any part-time students. Frequently, they are the most needy, because they are the ones that are trying to juggle study with work with family life. Every single dollar is so important, but part-time students cannot get concession travel anywhere in Australia. Clearly, that is a huge gap.
The other area is postgraduate travel concession. All the states and territories except for my state of Victoria provide transport concession cards to postgrad students, but in Victoria we do not. Undergraduates can get student concession cards within the state but not postgraduates—what an anomaly. Why not? Particularly now in Victoria, we have the Melbourne Model of study where all students have to do two sections; they do their undergraduate general degree, and then they go and do their master's degree where they specialise. There is such a pathway, and students go on to do their postgrad—that is actually all part of the whole degree process—but they cannot get student concessions. It is really causing so much angst in the families of the people that I represent.
So what I wanted to do tonight was put this on the agenda. I want you to know that this is a significant grievance right across Australia, particularly for our students who want to go interstate to study, including those students who live in Albury-Wodonga and have to cross the border to study. It is just ludicrous. It is not that it is hard; I think it just takes political will. The sad thing is that we just do not have enough representation in this parliament of those young people. There are so few young people here in the parliament who can actually stand up and have their voices heard. It relies on us, their representatives, to come forward and make the case. To the young people of my electorate, and to all the people studying right across Australia, I just want to say to you that we do understand and are really prepared to make the case that it needs to be addressed.
In finishing my comments tonight, I want to say to the department of education and to the minister responsible: whatever did happen to that interjurisdictional working group formed in October 2011? The ACTU were going to do some research. Did they ever meet? I suspect not. I suspect it got put into the too-hard basket and was not addressed. I would like to acknowledge the work of James Griffiths in the Library. Thank you for all that work you did in the background. Thank you to Ellyn Martin, Pam Turnbull and Leah Nankervis for making me aware of this problem and helping me with the research for today. It is on the agenda. We have a lot of work to do before we get the political will we know is needed to get the change we need, but we have begun.