Ms PATTEN (Northern Metropolitan) — I am pleased to make a contribution to the debate on the Transport (Compliance and Miscellaneous) Amendment (Abolition of the Penalty Fares Scheme) Bill 2016. The Australian Sex Party will be supporting this bill. We, alongside many Victorians, will be very happy to see this bill pass this house today, because we know — and the government has also recognised this — that on-the-spot fines are completely discriminatory. They are unfair to disadvantaged groups from a number of backgrounds who are already vulnerable to non-compliance issues for a wide variety of reasons. On-the-spot fines definitely negatively affect people with homelessness issues or mental illness, the elderly, people who are substance dependent and those who are living in poverty, and that is just to name a few groups.
The average weekly earnings of an Australian are around $1500 a week, whereas the Newstart allowance is just $262 a week. I will not get into a Newstart allowance debate, but just think what those infringements could mean to someone who earns just 17 per cent of average weekly earnings; $223 is almost their entire weekly earnings, so it is a tremendous hit. And it is not like they are able to pay the $75 on-the-spot fine; that is also an extraordinary hit. Certainly if you were to pay an on-the-spot fine, that would mean about one-third of your income would go immediately. That is the difference between paying your rent or getting some food for the week. That is why we find many people who end up in difficult circumstances down the track due to their inability to pay their fines — and the cycle continues.
I was at Frontyard, a youth homelessness service in the city, the other day. They were saying that fare evasion is actually among the first experiences that young people, particularly vulnerable young people facing homelessness, have of the criminal justice system, because they will not be able to pay the on-the-spot fine. They often will not be able to pay the $223 fine either. But the on-the-spot fines, as my colleagues have mentioned, simply favour those who have the means to pay them, and that is not how society should work.
I am not sure how we even thought that on-the-spot fines were actually a good thing, although I heard from Mr Morris that maybe one of the reasons was that it was a time-saving measure for authorised officers. I do not think that is an appropriate reason for having a completely unfair system. The bill is welcome for creating a fairer system, although one that is still out of reach to the very vulnerable in our community, putting them at great risk of entering into the criminal justice system for not being able to afford their fare.
I commend the previous government on their inner-city fare-free zone. I think that was actually a very good initiative. We have seen an increase in people using public transport. Maybe this is not because of the fares, but they certainly have given them an incentive to do that. We know that the fare is not necessarily what incentivises people to use public transport; we know it is far more the frequency, availability and convenience of our public transport system that attracts people to it.
There are two areas that I would like to highlight that the Sex Party has long been advocating for as far as rethinking the fare structure goes. I have put this before the house before, and it certainly seemed to be falling on deaf ears, but the first suggestion is an extension of the myki 2-hour fare from 2 to 3 hours. Two hours is just not enough time for people, particularly the elderly and the unemployed, to make a trip to go to a doctor’s appointment or a job interview. Extending the duration of the myki part-day fare to 3 hours would be beneficial to low-income earners, and I think it would also reduce the number of people being issued with infringement notices. Many people currently fined in our system believed that they were still within the time period. Particularly for concession holders, extending the myki part-day fare from 2 to 3 hours would be a huge improvement to the system and make it far more affordable, particularly for low-income earners, be they elderly people on a pension or unemployed people. This would enable them to get out to job interviews more easily, to attend regular doctors appointments et cetera.
The second suggestion, which certainly seems to have hit a chord in the community over the last couple of days, is looking at free public transport for schoolchildren. Public transport fares for schoolchildren are not discretionary spending; school is compulsory, so we need kids to be able to get to school. Thirty-nine per cent of secondary school children use public transport. Some people say they should have to pay for their fares, and certainly I have heard some journalists say this; however, we already provide a substantial free school bus system, so it is the kids who cannot access the free school bus system that are forced into using public transport. When you look at our free school system you see that parents are already paying well in advance of $1000 in extra fees every year for every child. On top of that, at the most concessional rate it costs between $500 and $700 a year for kids to get to school using public transport. To get that cheap rate you have to pay that up-front, so if you have got two or three kids you are looking at $1500 in a one-off fee at the beginning of the year for your children to access public transport. I do not think this is fair; I do not think it is equitable. It is obviously not working and it is obviously not fair because we have seen that over one-third of infringement notices went to concession holders, and that 12 000 of those being fined for infringements were under 18s — 18 per cent of all infringement notices went to under 18s. Sometimes that was not even for not having the myki card; it was for not having their ID card. Their school uniform was not enough to prove that they were in fact going to school.
So we would say: make public transport free to students going to and from school. This is not a new idea. New South Wales already does this, and it has proven to be very effective. I had a constituent come to see me the other day. She said, ‘Fiona, sometimes I can afford to put petrol in the car to drive around or I can afford to pay the myki card’. Sometimes her kids might be using the myki card and consciously fare evading because they cannot afford it. But what happens more often is that she drives her kids to school because she has to put petrol in her car so that she can use her car. This does not make sense. I was not able to get figures — I look forward to there being a Parliamentary Budget Office so I can get some pricing on this — but I would suggest the reduction in compliance costs on top of some reduction in cars on the road plus the ability for students and kids to get to school more easily would actually have a very positive effect both economically and socially.
This is not an either/or thing. We need more public transport — we need greater frequency and we need longer lines — especially in the northern areas of my electorate of Northern Metropolitan Region, where there is a complete desert when it comes to public transport. I know that we keep talking about this, but more often than not in my area we just talk about building another road instead of putting in some public service transport infrastructure.
I support this bill. I think it does fix an unfair penalty regime. But I think we could do a lot more to improve the fairness of our public transport system, and I would like the government to consider extending the myki fare from 2 to 3 hours and also to consider allowing schoolchildren to travel free to and from school.