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Monday, 21 February 2011
Page: 703

Ms HALL (8:13 PM) —I move:

That this House:

(1)   notes that:

(a)   Australia has an ageing population;

(b)   age discrimination exists within Australia and that this discrimination impacts on the strength of society, economy and the lives of older Australians;

(c)   ageing should not only be considered as an economic and social cost to government, rather, the positives of an older population should be recognised and promoted by government;

(d)   all older Australians deserve to live with dignity; and

(e)   the knowledge, life experience and skills of older people provide enormous benefit to Australia and the social fabric of the nation;

(2)   acknowledges that:

(a)   older workers have the ability to make an enormous contribution to the economic prosperity of Australia;

(b)   most volunteer work is undertaken by older Australians and provides an enormous economic social contribution to Australia; and

(c)   older Australians provide an enormous amount of child care which provides economic value to the nation; and

(3)   calls on the Government to consider:

(a)   new and innovative approaches to engage older Australians and address their needs;

(b)   encouraging Government departments to introduce senior friendly practices, such as dedicated seniors phone lines and customer service officers;

(c)   aged care accounts for all workers to fund their needs as they become older; and

(d)   highlighting and promoting the advantage of employing older workers.

Australia has an ageing population. It is not a phenomenon restricted to Australia—rather, it is a phenomenon that is being experienced by most developed countries. The general response is one of despair and hysteria at the cost of an ageing population and its impost on a country’s GDP. In Australia we have two reports that looked at our ageing population. The first was the Intergenerational report delivered in conjunction with the 2002-03 budget and the second was included in the Australia to 2050: future challenges report. Both reports highlight the cost associated with an ageing population, but neither discuss possible benefits.

In the Intergenerational report one of the first points that was made was that a steadily ageing population is likely to continue to place significant pressure on Commonwealth government finances. That shows right from the outset that the approach of the Howard government at that stage was towards looking at the cost, removing that cost and dealing with that cost.

Similarly, Australia to 2050: future challenges identifies ageing with spending pressures. It states, ‘Ageing of the Australian population will contribute to substantial pressures on government spending over the next 40 years.’ It goes on to project an increase to 27.1 per cent of GDP in 2049-50 on ageing related spending. It continues along the same lines as those of previous governments, highlighting the costs to Australia of an ageing population. It talks about issues such as health spending associated with an ageing population as well as other aspects that relate to it such as aged care spending.

I then looked at the Productivity Commission’s report Economic implications of an ageing Australia. Apart from a section on volunteering, it also concentrates on the cost to Australia of an ageing population. It talks about the percentage of Australians who will be over the age of 65 by 2044-45 and looked at the fact that improved life expectancy and control over our fertility was contributing to this ageing population. After reading all the reports that I managed to get my hands on, I could be forgiven for thinking that Australians being healthier and living longer is actually something that should be avoided. I mentioned that the Productivity Commission’s report referred to the fact that volunteering did make a contribution to our economy. It mentions the figure of $21 billion to $30 billion for volunteer work done within the community. The majority of volunteer work is performed by people over the age of 45. If you factor in the informal childcare arrangements, that figure goes up to $42 billion—quite a significant contribution.

It is little wonder, given these reports and the general attitude that exists, that ageism and age discrimination have become rampant in Australia. As a nation, we tend to look at negatives instead of promoting positives. I congratulate the Attorney-General, Robert McClelland, and the Minister for Mental Health and Ageing, Mark Butler, for the creation of a full-time commissioner for age discrimination. This is the first step in addressing age discrimination. Ageism and age discrimination are very subtle. They are hidden barriers that work as major disincentives to older Australians continuing in paid employment and being able to enjoy the life choices and quality of life enjoyed by other Australians.

Ageism is based on stereotypes and so entrenched in our society that it is accepted as the norm. Young people are vital, vibrant, creative—what we all aspire to be. Industry advertising is based on making people look younger, whilst mature members of our society are portrayed as tired, worn out, inflexible and not having anything to offer. Implicit in this is the concept that young is good and something we should all aspire to, whilst old is bad and something that we want to avoid. When the new member for Longman was elected at the age of 20, it was hailed as a new era in politics. I wonder how the election of an 80-year-old to parliament would have been received. I suspect it would have got the opposite response. The COTA website lists some of the myths and realities about ageing, and I will share some of these with the House tonight. They include the following:

MYTH Ageing equals sickness, disability and dementia.

REALITY Two out of three people aged 65 years and over rate their health as good to excellent.

MYTH Older people are a burden on society.

REALITY 80% of people 70 years and over live independently without help from care services.

MYTH The ageing of the population is a looming crisis.

REALITY People are living longer, many enjoying an active and healthy older age.

The list of myths goes on, and I will seek to table it at the end of my speech. The challenge for our society is to put aside these myths and address this discrimination. I have worked to utilise and harness the valuable resources senior Australians offer our nation. The starting point is to end discrimination in the workplace. The majority of age discrimination complaints received by the Human Rights Commission in 2008-09 related to employment, and most of those related to the employment of people over the age of 45. It is important to note that unemployment is the greatest cause of poverty; so by denying employment to older Australians you are denying them financial security.

The ageist culture that exists in Australia makes it possible for employers and recruiters to discriminate against older workers. Recruiting companies usually place in employment workers under the age of 45. The employees of those companies invariably screen out mature workers, and this means that employers do not even get the opportunity to consider older workers. Older workers are deemed to have outdated work skills, to be unable to learn new skills, to be overqualified and too experienced, to be inefficient and to be at risk of developing a disability—which in turn is another form of discrimination.

I refer members to a paper published by the Australian Human Rights Commission titled Age discrimination—exposing the hidden barrier for mature age workers, as it details the issue more graphically. The government recognises that Australia is not harnessing the skills and the expertise of mature workers, and this recognition along with the appointment of an age discrimination commissioner are vital steps that will address the needs of older Australians. In the lead-up to the last election, the government committed to introducing a new, improved work bonus. This legislation has been introduced into the parliament, and the new, improved work bonus will commence on 1 July. The government has also delivered pension reforms, and in the lead-up to the last election it made a number of commitments to older Australians.

As our society ages, Australia needs to look at new and innovative ways to meet the needs of senior Australians. It is imperative that we develop a system that will ensure the long-term financial security of older Australians, which means greater emphasis on employment, superannuation and other financial initiatives. The long-term viability of our aged-care sector needs to be addressed and initiatives such as aged-care accounts, similar to the social insurance scheme that operates in Germany, should be considered. The establishment of dedicated lines for seniors in government departments has been successful in other jurisdictions and is worthy of investigation. There is a need for a government campaign to address ageism in our society and this needs to be included in our education system. It needs to be looked at from preschool to universities, where our doctors, lawyers and social workers are trained. They need to rid themselves of negative stereotypes. Finally, I would like to see Australia lead the push for a binding international agreement that deals specifically with the rights of older people.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr S Georganas)—Is the motion seconded?