This week, the government offered $250 subsidies for fuel, taxis, train and bus services for pensioner-aged residents of rural areas, which is where Premier Gladys Berejiklian needs to shore up support to retain power.
“The $250 rebate is directed at electorates the government is particularly worried about,” said Paul Versteege, a spokesman for the Combined Pensioners & Superannuants Association, which lobbied for the policy.
“Obviously transport is an important part of their budget for lower-income pensioners and even more so regionally where the distances are longer.”
The Regional Seniors Transport Card for pensioners has been allocated $200 million over two years. A similar program in Western Australia was taken up by about half the people eligible, which suggests the NSW version could cost just $100 million out of a $160 billion two-year budget.
Too close to call
Polls show the March 23 election is too close to predict, making a hung parliament possible. Four of the Coalition’s six most-marginal seats are held by the Nationals: Upper Hunter, Monaro, Lismore and Tweed.
Voters feel under financial pressure, especially in country areas, despite a healthy economy. NSW’s 3.9 per cent unemployment rate in the lowest recorded in its history.
Wages in the state rose 2.5 per cent last year, according to the bureau of statistics. In Sydney, inflation was 1.7 per cent last year, and petrol prices fell 3.8 per cent.
Labor Opposition Leader Michael Daley, who took over in November, has made reducing the cost of living a top priority. His first major policy was free public transport for every student under 16, which the government limits to students travelling to and from school who live between 2.3 and 2.9 kilometres away.
Labor has also promised a refund for private vehicles of tolls charged on the M4 motorway, which runs from 15km west of central Sydney to Penrith on the city’s western fringe.
Families ‘come off second best’
The policy may help the road’s new owners, Transurban, the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board and the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, by encouraging more drivers to use the road.
“Every time this government does a deal with toll operators & stadium builders, it’s ordinary citizens & NSW families that always come off second best,” Mr Daley tweeted.
A week-and-a-half ago, the government said it would double a $100 rebate for children’s sport and activities. About one million vouchers, which can be used for different types of activities, from jujitsu to cricket, have been downloaded.
A few days earlier, she said everyone over 60 would become eligible for a Seniors Card, a discount program for people 60 and over. Previously, people who worked more than 20 hours a week weren’t eligible.
“Every single senior across NSW deserves some relief from the growing costs of everyday living,” Ms Berejiklian said.