TREASURER Joe Hockey’s comments that poor people either don’t have cars or drive very far has been carefully defended by Wannon’s Liberal MP Dan Tehan.
Mr Tehan acknowledged that rural and regional residents relied on cars, but said the real message of Mr Hockey’s comments about a proposed increase in fuel excise had been lost in the controversy.
“The most important aspect is the special fuel excise spoken about by the Treasurer is critical in getting a direct source of funding for roads infrastructure,” Mr Tehan said.
“Across south-west Victoria it’s an issue affecting everyone — low, middle or high incomes, we all want to drive safely on roads.
“In regional and rural areas about everyone more or less needs a car to get around, but in my view road infrastructure is the crucial issue in this debate. The government does understand that every slight increase in the cost of living is important. That’s why we got rid of the carbon tax.”
Mr Tehan conceded too much of the current excise went into consolidated revenue.
“In my opinion more of the excise should have been directed to roads,” he said.
Based on an average fuel price of 150 cents a litre and consumption of nine litres per 100 kilometres, a worker who lives 40 kilometres away (such as Hawkesdale, Garvoc or Nirranda) and commutes to and from Warrnambool each day spends $54 a week on fuel.
That rises to $67.50 for those 50km away (Mortlake, Terang, Yambuk, Orford, Minhamite); $81 for 60km away (Macarthur, Timboon), and $94.50 for 70km away (Camperdown, Penshurst).
Great South Coast Group chairman Cr Chris O’Connor of Terang said Mr Hockey’s comments were “not very politically astute”.
“Country people haven’t got good access to public transport,” Cr O’Connor said.
“It doesn’t matter if you are rich or poor — you need a car in the country.”
Labor candidate for South West Coast, Roy Reekie, said Mr Hockey’s comments smacked of arrogance and ignorance of the needs of regional residents, especially unemployed and students who relied on cars.
“His comments reminded me of when Jeff Kennett said regional Victoria was the toenail of the state,” Mr Reekie said.
The Victorian Council of Social Service said people in regional areas were more reliant upon cars, had higher travel costs and were at significantly higher risk of “transport poverty” than people in more affluent inner-city suburbs.
“The reality for many low-income households in transport-poor areas is that running cars can represent over half of their total household expenditure costs,” council chief executive Emma King said.