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catallaxy in technical exile

Should overseas students get public transport concessions?

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Concession fares on public transport are to overseas students what VSU is to Liberal students, a cause endlessly pursued in the face of countless rejections. When I was higher education adviser to David Kemp the overseas students used to lobby me on it, despite knowing that it was a state issue. In the Herald Sun this morning they were complaining again:

Melbourne University Overseas Students Service President Yun-Han Lee said most foreign students did not own cars and many were forced to travel long distances from Melbourne’s outer suburbs where rent was cheaper to universities in the CBD.

Despite heavy lobbying over concession travel, Mr Lee said the State Government had refused to budge, adding to students’ already heavy financial burden.

“I don’t know why we are second class,” he said.

As with the case of the gay war widow the central claim here is that similar cases be treated alike. If Australian students get concessions, then so should international students. But is this the right way to look at it?

The people eligible for public transport concessions fall into two categories. Pensioners and health care card holders have satisfied government authorities that they are poor, and this is part of their general welfare assistance. Others fall into categories who are perhaps likely to be poorer than average, but no evidence has been provided to support this – holders of seniors’ cards, veterans, and and students. If we take the central justification for public assistance to be need, then the case for concessions for the last three groups is relatively weak. Indeed, public transport concessions for university students have been restricted in the past, and they still have to jump through bureaucratic hoops, be full-time, pay $8, and lose their privilege when they become a postgraduate. A student card is not enough; the government clearly, and in my view rightly, sees students as borderline cases. So overseas students are campaigning to extend a benefit that possibly should be curtailed anyway for lacking a sufficiently strong connection to need.

But what if overseas students can show that they are needy? The difficulty for their argument then is that they require an argument as to why Australian taxpayers should give them a subsidy – on top of the subsidy they receive already when they pay full fares. At least in most other concession categories it is likely that a contribution has been made previously via taxes (pensioners, seniors, veterans) or will be made in future (students) so concession fares are redistributing wealth around the life cycle. This won’t be true of overseas students who return home when they complete their degrees (though the argument is complicated by the number who settle here). So in most cases concession fares would be a small redistribution of wealth from Australians to people who have come here to study. Should we give concessions to backpackers too – as some countries do?

Not giving concession fares to overseas students reflects Australia’s targeted welfare state. We generally don’t like welfare for able-bodied people, and we restrict it to Australian citizens. Overall, I think the overseas students’ chances of winning this one are lower than Liberal students’ chances of getting VSU.

Written by Admin

November 14, 2005 at 7:52 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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