Student travel concessions have come under attack from the NSW state government. The proposed removal of the subsidy for school students will affect 700,000 students. The $50 back-to-school allowance, initiated by former premier Bob Carr in 2002, is also set to be cut.
On November 1, Treasurer Eric Roozendaal refused to guarantee that the NSW government will continue the School Student Transport Scheme, claiming it was unaffordable due to declining government revenue.
The scheme has provided free school transport to NSW students for more than 40 years. The cutback is set to save the NSW government up to $470 million a year.
The parents of 700,000 students across the state will be forced to pay up to $400 per child each year just so they can get to school.
The cutbacks are expected to be confirmed when Roozendaal presents a new mini-budget on November 11.
On November 3, Premier Nathan Rees made a weak attempt to soften the blow, saying it's wrong to describe free student transport as being "scrapped". Rather, the scheme is being "reformed".
According to the November 3 Sydney Morning Herald, Rees asked the public to believe that the government's plan was "not an exercise simply about saving money". Rather, the government only plans to "correct the allocation" of education funding. Rees claimed more teachers for children with special needs will be funded through the cutbacks.
But despite Rees' spin-doctoring it is clear that the removal of student transport subsidies will hit working-class families hard. Many families — especially those with a lot of children — will struggle to afford the extra $400 per student every year.
The attack is part of the user-pays offensive on the education system supported by both major parties.
The impact NSW Labor's slashing of student transport subsidies will mean that it will be even harder for poorer students to attend school. It could also have a bad impact environmentally by forcing more cars on the road. The transport subsidies should be restored.