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Peak: reinventing middle age: speech, Melbourne

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Thanks very much, Michael and good afternoon to everybody.

I acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we meet, I pay my respects to elders past and present.

It’s a great pleasure to be here, and I am joined by my wife, Chloe who has been a lifetime family friend of the Edgars.

It's a pleasure to be here with Don and Patricia and to launch this important book by them.

Peak is a book about being unconventional, taking a fresh look, reimagining and reinventing - and Patricia and Don have always practised what they preach.

Most importantly, this book throws down a challenge to all of us - policymakers, politicians, Australians.

There is no doubt in my mind that the public policy debates about Australians in their second half of life, do not get the attention they do deserve. I hope this book will lead to greater interest.

Because this book asks us how can we offer better recognition - and more support - for Australians in their 50s and 60s and beyond.

How can this clever nation of ours show older Australians that their experience, their skills and their contributions are as valued and respected as they should be?

How can we get the best lessons of life?

How can we correct the negative, backward-looking stereotypes and practices that - even in 2017 - diminish the lives of older Australians and therefore, diminish the lives of this nation.

I believe, as this book states, by reinventing and reimagining middle age - we can set Australia up for reaping the benefits of a population living longer and the big advances in public health delivered in recent decades.

Patricia and Don have given us a book of powerful optimism and refreshing honesty.

A book about individuals reinventing their lives, bouncing back from adversity, discovering new opportunities and abilities.

And as someone who turns 50 in a couple of months, as hard as that may be for some of you to believe, I was very keen on the message that we should not consider that ‘old’.

But I think it is more than just the individuals in this age-group. This is also a book about Australia as a whole, reinventing its perceptions and its understandings.

We are living longer - and that is something to celebrate.

My youngest daughter, Clementine was only four when my own mum passed away - I wish they had more time together. In the decades ahead, more Australian children will grow up knowing, loving and learning from their grandparents.

Australians are conscious there are other consequences too.

In the past year or so, I’ve held over 40 town hall meetings, right around the country - anyone is welcome to attend and pleasingly, hundreds do. People can ask any question, on any topic.

And I predict that in my next 40 town halls, just as in my previous 40: in Melbourne, Mackay, Darwin, Tassie - wherever I go in Australia, someone will ask about aged care, about dementia, about Alzheimer’s, about the anxiety they have for an elderly parent who is being let down by the system, by Centrelink and by society.

Patricia and Don’s book takes us a step back from that point, from our caring needs in the fourth quarter. It focuses us on the third quarter, the premiership quarter as AFL fans know it.

Our workplaces and communities haven’t turned our minds with sufficient energy or imagination to the tremendous future potential of Australians over 50.

We haven’t come to grips with the fact that most older Australians are healthy, independent, and active. Enjoying their long lives - making valued contributions to their families, communities, and businesses.

Living in their own homes with a high degree of independence. Many eager to work.

More than a quarter of Australians are over 60, the fastest growing cohort in the nation. By 2050, that proportion will have doubled.

Yet only about 13 percent of people over 65 are in the labour force.

Average life expectancy is currently over 83 for women and nearly that men. By 2050 it will be over 95 for both. This country has too much talent to waste.

This book is about a century of life, living a good third quarter, setting ourselves up for a healthy and happy fourth.

Despite the rhetoric of some members of the government, the age pension is not a king’s ransom. It’s a modest sum - and most homeowners on the pension make sacrifices, but manage.

But among the cohort of older people who rely on private rentals, hardship is increasing.

Growing numbers of older men and women are locked out of private rentals and cannot find social or affordable community housing, leading to increasing homelessness.

Social connectedness -a sense of community, of neighbourliness - is one of the most important factors in achieving healthy and happy ageing.

But failures in services and facilities, transport policies and the planning of our towns and suburbs put obstacles in the way of these connections.

And the biggest barrier of them all is the one we impose through stereotypes and discrimination.

One in four Australians over 50 say they have experienced age discrimination in the workplace. One in three jobseekers who faced this discrimination ultimately gave up looking for work.

These are skilled, experienced, and capable Australians who want to keep working - but are being denied that opportunity because of a failure by employers and by governments to look past a bit of grey in their hair and a simple stereotype.

This is a scandalous waste of the capacity of our fellow Australians.

That failure of equality, of imagination, reaches beyond our workplaces. Sometimes it’s a failure to value elderly Australians simply as human beings.

As carers in families, as contributors to communities. As people who’ve worked hard, paid taxes, raised families, served their country, good citizens who still have plenty more to offer.

We ought to recognise - and reward that - with a more secure, more independent future.

At the moment, on the day they retire, most Australians have not earned enough to be economically independent.

If we can support more Australians who choose - and I stress choose, not forced - to work longer, that will mean

- stronger retirement savings - reduced reliance on the pension - and a better chance of paying-off the mortgage before retirement.

Because home ownership remains the single most important determinant of an economically secure old age.

And if our nation can do better by older Australians, all Australians will benefit.

If we could increase participation rate for mature-age workers by just 7 per cent, within 5 years our GDP would increase by $25 billion. This increase is possible.

I must add, cutting penalty rates does not help secure better retirement and conditions. Fifteen in every hundred people in the pharmacy, fast-food and retail industries are over the age of 50.

Cutting wages is not a way to secure a better retirement.

Many of the jobs of the future will be better suited to older workers.

In the next five years - 600,000 new jobs will be created in:

- Services industries like health care and community work. - Professional, Scientific and Technical Services; - Education and Training; and Retail Trade.

I believe Australia is smart enough - and generous enough - to provide young people with the opportunity to find a good job as well as utilising the skills, knowledge and experience of more mature-age workers.

I was interested to read Patricia and Don’s observation that younger colleagues are far better at recognising their older co-workers as a resource to learn from, compared to people in management roles.

I said at the beginning of my speech that Peak threw down a challenge to us, the readers.

But what I like most about this book, is the same thing I like most about the two authors, it’s the optimism, the sense of hope.

This book urges us to embrace the benefits of a longer life. To fill our extra days with quality and meaning.

To respect the contribution Australians of all ages, make to our society.

And if we can channel some of that optimism, if we can bring fresh eyes and an open mind to the future of this nation.

Then more of us can enjoy lives which are not just longer - but happier, healthier and better too. Nothing would hold us back.

As has been observed, a great goal of any society is to ensure that its citizens enjoy a century of life full of quality and meaning.

Patricia and Don are talking to us about achieving this great dream. Congratulations on this overdue contribution to the national conversation.

It’s my pleasure to launch this book - and wish it, and both of you, all the very best.