Fraud puts rides at risk

THE NSW Taxi Transport Subsidy Scheme was set up in 1981 to help people with severe and permanent disabilities who couldn’t use public transport.

It’s an enlightened idea, of extreme value to those who need it. Essentially, the scheme allows eligible people to travel by taxi at half-fare, up to a maximum subsidy of $30 a trip.

Unfortunately, it appears that some taxi drivers in the Hunter may have abused the scheme. One driver has admitted submitting false claims, but argued that he only inflated the fare in cases where the passengers couldn’t pay anything.

In other instances, however, it is alleged that drivers claimed for journeys that simply never occurred.

It has been suggested that the scam may have run for a number of years, potentially costing taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars.

At least two drivers are off the road as a result of the allegations, and transport authorities are investigating.

Indeed, a Newcastle Taxis spokesman has stated that the Ministry of Transport had been investigating the allegations for more than a year.

That seems an extraordinarily long time to establish what might appear to be a relatively simple set of facts. It is reported, for instance, that satellite tracking data is available to positively disprove some of the contentious journey claims.

From a public perspective scams like these are particularly disturbing.

By bringing a valuable transport subsidy program into disrepute, those allegedly responsible for lodging false claims may have put the existence of that entire program in danger.

This is not the first time that voucher-based taxi travel schemes have been put under the spotlight. Earlier this year questions were raised about the use of Cabcharge vouchers by the federal parliamentary speaker, Peter Slipper. While those questions are still unresolved, they exposed disturbing allegations about the potential for abuse in the system.

If the various allegations are true, it appears that the voucher systems need an overhaul. At the very least, they need to be subjected to more rigorous oversight.

Changing nation

AUSTRALIA is a more Asian nation than it used to be. Its people are generally less religious than they were and the mining boom has been skewing population growth towards the resource states of Western Australia and Queensland.

Those observations are drawn from data collected as part of the 2011 Census.

Thanks to the resources boom, Queensland and Western Australia have grown faster than the other states. Nine of the 10 fastest-growing local government areas were in regional Western Australia where people drawn by high-paying mine jobs are also paying dearly for housing.

The continuing Asianisation of Australia is apparent, with Mandarin displacing Italian as the second most common language, spoken in 1.6 per cent of households. Cantonese isn’t far behind (1.2 per cent), placing Chinese languages well in front of all others except English.

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