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Wednesday, 23 May 2018
Page: 4502

Mr BROADBENT (McMillan) (17:48): 'Age is not an issue. It is just a number': Roger Federer, probably one of the most exciting tennis players of our generation. Before I start, if you hear this address and identify with the stories I'm about to tell or the issues I'm about to address, I would like to hear from you. My name is Russell Broadbent and I'm the federal member for McMillan, in Victoria. I'm a government member, but don't let politics get in the way of contacting me.

Ageism is alive and well in our society. It makes people lose a sense of belonging, a sense of value and a sense self-respect. It deprives society of skills, knowledge and experience that take decades to learn. It goes to the heart of how prepared we are to value and accept people, based on their good character and capacity to contribute, not based on their gender, race, religion or age. Take Robert. Robert is a 55-year-old CEO with decades of experience in the manufacturing sector. He has built businesses, led teams and implemented change in many businesses making iconic Australian products. When in his mid-40s, Robert went to see a recruiter, who said to him, 'You've got some fantastic experience, but once you get a five in front of your age employers won't want you.' Robert went for a CEO role in his 50s, the same CEO role he did exceptionally well at many times over. The job was a perfect fit. He was enthusiastic about wanting to work there. The job went to a man 10 years younger with 10 years less experience.

Take Joan. Joan is in her 60s and lives in my electorate. She has enjoyed a successful career as a planner in local government. Joan is known for her skills, experience, good character and good judgement. Upon entering her 60s, she has struggled to find full-time employment in her chosen area of local government. Joan often gets looked over for someone substantially younger. Sometimes Joan is offered a short-term contract. Often Joan is asked to come in and fix other people's mistakes. The upshot for Joan is that she now has full-time employment, albeit a long way from where she lives.

Robert is enjoying working as a consultant. Robert and Joan are good people. They are very good at their jobs. They are resilient, reliable and respected, and they both feel redundant because the first thing employees see is not all of their exemplary qualities but their age. As an economy, we need Robert and Joan to continue working. As a society, we need Robert and Joan to feel valued for their character and contribution—not counted out for their date of birth.

The Australian Human Rights Commission's national prevalence survey results provide clear evidence of discrimination in Australian workplaces. The findings clearly indicate that age discrimination discourages older workers from remaining in and re-entering the workforce. Over a quarter or 27 per cent of Australians aged 50 years and over indicate that they have experienced some form of age discrimination on at least one occasion in the workplace in the last two years. The highest incidence of age discrimination was observed in the population aged between 55 and 64. The results also suggest that discrimination is part of the culture of some workplaces and some work practices. It is common for Australians aged 50 years or older to witness someone else experience age discrimination in the workplace. Further, a substantial number of respondents who were employees and managers reported that they would regularly take an employee's age into consideration when making decisions about hiring, promoting and training staff. The most commonly experienced forms of age discrimination were related to limiting employment promotion or training opportunities and to perceptions that older people have outdated skills or were too slow to learn new things. Jokes and derogatory comments based on age were also among the most common discriminatory behaviours reported.

Age discrimination has significant negative impacts on most people who experience it. The most commonly reported factors are a negative impact on self-esteem, mental health and stress. A negative impact on family, career and finances was the second most common effect of discrimination. A significant proportion of people believe that taking action about discrimination would be too stressful or embarrassing, or it is easier to keep quiet. For the majority of those who had experienced age discrimination and took action with regard to the most recent event, their response in most cases was to think about leaving their job, changing career or discussing it with family, friends and colleagues. Relatively few raised the issue within their organisation or approached an external organisation for assistance.

Women are more likely to be perceived as having outdated skills, being slow to learn new things or being more likely to perform unsatisfactorily in their job. Women are also more likely than men to report that their most recent event of discrimination affected their self-esteem or mental health or caused them stress. These results are of concern, given the increasing emphasis on encouraging women to return to the workplace or to continue their participation in the workforce beyond the traditional retirement age.

Ruth Williams, a research fellow at the Centre for Workplace Leadership, University of Melbourne, reports that ABS data consistently shows that, despite their wealth of knowledge and experience, older workers are overrepresented in underemployment statistics. They experienced countless problems such as being denied additional work hours or experiencing unwanted cuts. Consequently, they are unwillingly locked into part-time or casual work. Mature age workers often face limited training and promotional opportunities and, as a result, they are left with outdated skills and minimal career progression. They are often denied flexible working conditions, with less of a chance to assume responsibility within the workplace. With such obstacles, older workers are sometimes unable to have productive impacts in their workplace. This is just the tip of the iceberg of age discrimination in the workplace.

Work-related age discrimination and mature-age unemployment and underemployment can have complex and far-reaching outcomes. Many often overlook the wealth of knowledge, experience and skills that equip mature-age workers to apply leadership in workplace settings and projects. Most older workers have crucial business relationships and industry contacts. These cannot be recorded in a manual for others to read and easily implement. Industries requiring specific skills and knowledge, such as the mining sector, are deeply concerned about losing this specialised knowledge as older workers retire.

HR and line managers need to apply an understanding and positive approach to how the ageing workforce can improve business. There are considerable economic costs associated with low labour force participation of older Australians. According to Deloitte Access Economics, an extra three percentage points of labour force participation among workers aged 55 and over would result in a $33 billion boost to GDP, or about 1.6 per cent of national income, and a five per cent lift in paid employment among this group would result in $48 billion in extra GDP, or 2.4 per cent of national income. These gains are on top of the expected $55 billion, or 2.7 per cent, boost from participation amongst the over-55s already factored into the latest Intergenerational report.

At the individual workplace level, lower participation rates and experiences of employment discrimination impact in a variety of ways, including loss of knowledge and highly experienced and skilled staff, high costs of recruitment and training, loss of productivity in the workplace, levels of job satisfaction, and limiting diversity and its associated benefits in the workplace. The Australian Human Rights Commission's research found that many people who experience age discrimination in the workplace subsequently give up looking for work or think about retiring or accessing their superannuation. Other impacts include involuntary early retirement, unemployment and long-term unemployment, social exclusion, outdating of skills, barriers to accessing benefits and the age pension, and housing stress.

Certain groups within the community may experience discrimination on the basis of their age differently from others—for example, people with disability, women, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, and LGBTI people. The 2015 Intergenerational report projects that the proportion of the population aged 65 and over will more than double by 2054-55. As a result of the growing population of older people and increasing life expectancy, there will be greater pressure for older Australians to remain in the workforce for longer. Labour force participation rates for older Australians are currently low. As a proportion of the whole population, one out of three Australians over 55 participate in the labour force, approximately 1.9 million people. This accounts for 16 per cent of the total labour force. Statistics also indicate that labour force participation declines with age.

In the year to June 2010, 71 per cent of Australians aged 55 to 59 years were participating in the labour force, 51 per cent of 60- to 64-year-olds were in the labour force, and 24 per cent of those aged 65 to 69 years were in the labour force. Referring again to the national prevalence survey of age discrimination in the workplace, the commission found that over one-quarter—27 per cent—of Australians aged 50 years and over indicated they had experienced some form of age discrimination on at least one occasion in the workplace in the last two years. The highest incidence of discrimination was observed in the population aged between 55 and 64 years. Furthermore, managers aged 50 years or older reported that they took an employee's age into consideration on a regular basis when making decisions. Overall, one-third—33 per cent—of Australians aged 50 years and over who were in a role responsible for decision-making about staff took an employee's age into consideration always, frequently or occasionally when making those decisions.

People in vulnerable circumstances are more likely to experience a negative impact of discrimination. Workers in the lower income bracket were more likely to experience a negative impact as a result of the most recent episode of discrimination—90 per cent versus 77 per cent respectively. In addition, one in two—50 per cent—of people in the lower income bracket gave up looking for work as a result of experiencing discrimination, as opposed to one-quarter of those in the higher income bracket. Of people in a single household with no children, 91 per cent were more likely to report negative impacts as a result of discrimination when compared to those who were a couple with children, which was 71 per cent. Of those who were a couple with no children living the household, it was 80 per cent. For people in a single-parent household, 87 per cent were more likely to be negatively impacted by the experience of discrimination when compared to those who were a couple with children, which was 71 per cent.

As a society, we need to better understand and prepare for the impending issues facing ageing populations. Older people in this nation are not being given the opportunities in the marketplace that they deserve. Today, I heard a commentator in the National Press Club say that older Australians were not making the contribution to the tax base that they should. I say today that they have already made that contribution for all of their years. This nation needs to reform and work hard to revitalise older Australians to take their place in society, take leadership roles and use their experience for the national benefit. We need to change the focus of ageing from catastrophe to opportunity and remove barriers to older people leading healthy and productive lives.

Speaking of opportunities, it is relevant that I mention the Labor Party's policy to increase collections on older Australians. This is their intention, if they are elected to govern. In regards to older Australians, they're going to reduce the negative gearing tax discount, reduce the capital gains discount and further reduce superannuation concessions. They are going to tax family trusts, end cash refunds of unused franking credits, abandon the cut in the company tax rate to big business and increase the top income tax rate from two per cent to 49 per cent. These measures alone will increase the tax take of a future Labor government by $30 billion over four years.

Ross Gittins' article in The Age today should be compulsory reading for anybody who has worked hard and saved for their retirement. You are the people who will pay for Labor's largesse—yes, you. These people are the risk-takers, the investors, the innovators, the builders, the businesspeople and the employers and their employees. It is you who will have to cough up your hard-earned money to pay for the Labor's redistribution of your wealth—or, should I say, the redistribution of your wealth to others in our community. The fact is that 47 per cent of taxpayers pay no net tax in Australia. The top 10 per cent of taxpayers will pay 55 per cent of all tax in Australia this year and the top 20 per cent will pay a staggering 80 per cent of the tax burden, which will increase under a Labor government, which Labor says is just fine. I say it will dampen the enthusiasm of entrepreneurs and the risk-takers to have a go and create the jobs and opportunities of the future.

A report I read said that 80 per cent of the new jobs of the future will created by these people through small- and medium-sized business start-ups. The Liberal-National government is determined that these enterprises will be given every incentive, every freedom and every opportunity to flourish and be the drivers of job opportunities for the benefit of all Australians. There it is: not only do they discriminate on the basis of age but they are now proposing to take from older generations and transfer that to the younger. Age is not an issue; it is just a number. Let us today reverse this ageist sentiment and redraw the line in the sand to benefit us all. In passing, I have to say the government will pay employers $10,000 if they employ an older person. It's time we gave older Australians a fair go.