Winston Peters claims an axe is hanging over his prized SuperGold Card scheme -- so he's staged a protest on a Wellington train.
He was joined by around a dozen pensioners on the journey from Petone to central Wellington, who were carrying jumbo-sized cutouts of the cards.
The New Zealand First leader says changes that come into force on July 1 will be the beginning of the end of free transport for seniors because councils will forced to cough up more cash.
The changes will see the current funding model moved from the Government paying operators around the country to local councils being given a set amount for buses, trains and ferries in their areas -- regardless of whether Gold Card patronage numbers increase or fall.
On top of that is a new cap on the Government’s overall budget for the scheme, which is $28M each year for the next 5 years and it won’t increase if the number of card holders increases.
Mr Peters says local councils already pay current funding shortfalls and the changes will force them to absorb even more costs.
He says that shortfall will build up over time and eventually see free public transport for over 65s cut back.
"You can't bulk-fund increasing numbers, unless you increase the bulk-fund with the number, and they’re not."
The Prime Minister's office says Mr Peters is wrong -- and the scheme is safe and actually growing.
When National came into office, there were 800 businesses signed up for the scheme to pass on concessions to seniors. Today, that figure has increased ten fold to more than 8000 businesses.
Nearly 30,000 Kiwis every year are becoming eligible for the scheme which already has more than 680,000 members.
Mr Peters claims there’s no way a capped budget can sustain such expansion without entitlements being scaled back.
"Hands off the SuperGold Card, stop telling people lies. You're putting a cap on expenditure and passing responsibility to councils and you’ll start blaming them for this when you’re responsible."