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Is the Victorian government trying to avoid helping people in need?

By Peter Gibilisco - posted Monday, 16 February 2004


Due to my illness, Friedreich’s Ataxia, I have been a member of the m50 taxi program since about 1985. To be a member of this program you must need a wheelchair to improve most forms of mobility. About six per cent of the users of the Multi Purpose Taxi Program are confined to a wheelchair and therefore qualify for and use the m50 program, which entitles taxi drivers to a small lifting fee.

All Victorian members receive the same subsidy they received upon inception of the Multi Purpose Taxi Program (including the m50 taxi program); in 1983. That is, a half-price subsidy at a capped rate of $ 50.00, which has remained the same for the past 21 years, despite inflation. However, In 1983 the average fare into the city of Melbourne from Dandenong was $20. Whereas, today it is close to $60.00, and the fare to Tullumarine airport, from Dandenong, is more than $100, which leaves me paying full fare once the meter ticks over $50.00.

Currently there is a bi-partisan political approach towards social policy that identifies with the notion that recipients should pay to receive (beyond having a Disability). That form of thinking is gaining political momentum today due to a materially competitive society where social policy is viewed as relating to the underdeveloped or the unneeded people in society. This approach provides for a situation where only the strong will survive, and the weak are socially excluded.

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For example, this approach was embodied in the federal government’s proposal to significantly reduce the allowable hours worked by disabled part-pensioners. This would further increase the likelihood of social exclusion of those basically left to survive on the pension. Restricting the possibility of work and the ability to remain eligible for a part pension and the pensioner concession card can only further diminish the quality of life of people with disabilities.

The backlash against such a move was potentially politically damaging for the Australian Liberal party. Hugh Mackay suggested to me that this was another case where governments (state or federal) attempt to reduce their expenditure on social policy? Since it failed, has the state government sought to suggest that the system is being rorted by the taxi drivers rather, than facing the political consequences of straight out axing such a program?

American disabled author and activist Marta Russell combined with Ravi Malhotra to argue:

There has been a convergence of neoliberal and Third Way discourses, resulting in the mantra that “rights entail responsibilities”. Both discourses adopt the supply-side theory that the economy is burdened by rigid labour markets and overly-generous welfare provisions. In this spirit former President Clinton declared that the “era of big government is over” and called for “more empowerment, less entitlement”.

In other words they question whether a small government with an increase in private-sector competition has the ability to adequately deliver the right social policies to promote an egalitarian societal mix.

The Victorian Multi Purpose Taxi Program recently underwent stringent structural changes to reduce the possibility of members or taxi drivers rorting the system. The system was, in my opinion, reformed admirably, leaving not much of a chance of rorting. The swipe-card system will allow fares to be continually monitored. However, the costs to the state of the Multi Purpose Taxi Program have increased, as noted by Andrew Heasley in The age.com (10/11/2003):

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Transport Minister Peter Batchelor said last month the program costs had risen from $36 million in 2000 to $42.6 million last year. [Following on with the words of the s]ate Opposition transport spokesman Terry Mulder said yesterday the Government had known for years the system was being undermined by rorting.

The rise in the costs of the Multi Purpose Taxi Program from $36 million in 2000 to $42.6 million last year amounts 20 per cent. That is easily accounted for by economic growth (inflation, price rises, etc…), the goods and services tax and the population growth of “people with disabilities”. People with disabilities today are living longer and increasing in population through medical and technological advancements. They are becoming better educated and requiring access to social gatherings and meetings – creating a greater demand for transport services. For example, I am becoming well recognised in academic circles for my literary work in the social sciences and “people with disabilities”, and am about to submit my PhD to the University of Melbourne.

The Age’s claim to have “seen a list of suspect fare transactions, which show the account numbers of disabled cardholders being charged twice - minutes apart - with similar but not identical $20-plus fares, virtually doubling the return to the taxi driver and the cost to the government” proves it would be difficult to rort the current swipe-card system system. To put it another way, the cost-benefit analysis of rorting the system does not look good for “people with disabilities” and for taxi drivers who may have more to lose (financially). Thus, is rorting the real reason behind the increased costs of the program or is it a politically convenient reason to reduce social spending?

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About the Author

Peter Gibilisco was diagnosed with the progressive neurological condition called Friedreich's Ataxia, at age 14. The disability has made his life painful and challenging. He rocks the boat substantially in the formation of needed attributes to succeed in life. For example, he successfully completed a PhD at the University of Melbourne, this was achieved late into the disability's progression. However, he still performs research with the university, as an honorary fellow. Please read about his new book The Politics of Disability.

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