AS the Shoalhaven continues to be held to ransom by petrol stations charging unexplainably high fuel prices, Treasurer Joe Hockey added insult to injury with his “poor don’t drive” comment.
Mr Hockey hit a raw regional nerve on Thursday when he said “Poor people did not own cars or drive as far, they would be not as hard hit by a rise in the fuel excise.”
Shoalhaven university students were disgusted by the comment, saying it was an example of how out of touch politicians in the cities are with the rest of the country.
Tim May from Sussex Inlet travels 100 kilometres a few days a week to study at the University of Wollongong Shoalhaven Campus.
He said he comes from a working class family and is studying to become a teacher.
“I own a small and economical car that costs me $50 per week in petrol to get to uni.
“I work as a bar tender and a tutor and I’m just getting by,” he said.
Fellow student Amelia Smith from Sanctuary Point suggested Mr Hockey be more careful with his language.
“I know it’s not easy for politicians to please everyone but they have to be careful about making generalisations,” she said.
Robyn Carpenter from North Nowra is also a university student.
She pointed out how hard it was to get a job in Nowra and that being able to drive and being able to afford petrol was crucial to finding work.
However, volunteer youth worker Beck Gallagher from Sanctuary Point agreed with Mr Hockey.
She said in her experience people with little money were less inclined to drive.
“I work with a lot of kids from East Nowra and their parents don’t drive far or don’t have cars,” she said.
“So I think in that he is probably right.”
Having a licence is almost a compulsory requirement to getting a job in the Shoalhaven.
Red Cross statistics say 80 per cent of job advertisements in the Shoalhaven require applicants to hold a driver’s licence.
In metropolitan areas that number drops to 40 per cent.
In the past the local Red Cross has been funded to hold programs aimed at gaining licences for young people to help them find work.
Red Cross southern regional manager Judy Harper was involved in a program that helped get a number of local people into work, or more shifts because the program helped them complete their driver training.
Unjustified high fuel prices have been a target of NRMA South Coast and southern region director Alan Evans for more than a decade.
He said part of the reason we had high fuel prices is that decision-makers like politicians and senior public servants have fuel cards.
“We proposed giving them a fixed allowance for fuel, for each financial year, then they’d suddenly feel the pinch too.
“The decision-makers in Canberra and Macquarie Street don’t feel the pinch, but you and I have to every time we pull up at a bowser,” he said.