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Monday, 21 February 2011
Page: 710

Mr SLIPPER (8:42 PM) —In speaking to this motion, let me say at the outset how fortunate we are as a parliament that the member for Shortland has seen fit to bring forward this motion. It states some very obvious truths but also encourages our consciences to look at what we as a nation owe to those people who have contributed so much to make sure that our country, Australia, is such a wonderful place in which to live. The member for Shortland highlighted—through a very cleverly worded list of points in her motion—some of the challenges confronting older Australians. I think they are challenges that we collectively, as elected representatives, ought to try to make easier for older Australians to face.

We are as a nation extremely fortunate. We live in relative peace. Most residents are respectful of others and their rights. We have a wonderful lifestyle, and we have a laid-back appreciation for the many good things that we have. Older Australians, in particular, are extremely altruistic. While many of us tend to look at issues on the basis of the hip-pocket nerve, often older Australians will say, ‘This government decision is not good for us personally but it is good for our kids and our grandkids and therefore is good for the country.’ Older Australians have worked hard and have helped to encourage the world to recognise that Australia is a civilised country, a good international citizen and a country which, as the years go on, will play an increasingly important part in the world.

Despite hardships including the global economic crisis and, more recently, the terrible floods and Cyclone Yasi, which have brought real tragedy and hardship into the lives of many, as a nation we still do our best to keep a smile on our faces and look at the bright side of life. All of us would have seen on television the pictures of older Australians who had lived in their communities for their entire lives and who lost everything. We saw how cheerful they were, how optimistic they were and how, while they wanted some government assistance, they did not expect government to do everything for them. Older Australians are role models for younger Australians. They have values, they have standards, they have principles and they have ethics that younger Australians could, on many occasions, do well to emulate.

The tendencies and the characteristics of older Australians are those which we all admire and which make us proud as individuals and as a nation. Of course, we all recognise that one of the challenges that our nation faces is the increasing age of our population. We have a declining birth rate—which is, happily, not quite as declining as it once was—and we have an ageing population. We are also fortunate that we have a lengthening life span, and that, along with modern medicine, brings other challenges and opportunities. It can be extremely expensive for a community to meet the costs of medicine and technology which can prolong life and improve quality of life, but I think that we as a country really ought to do whatever we can, because we are in effect repaying a debt to people who have helped to make this nation as great as it is.

It is often said that compulsory superannuation will solve all of our problems; it will not. Compulsory superannuation will go some way towards meeting the costs of an extended life span, but it is important to recognise that not everyone has the ability to maintain the same standard of living in retirement that they enjoyed during their working lives. The term ‘ageing population’ is well known in discussion circles and in the media, and it is important to see our ageing population not as a problem but as a challenge. We need to make sure that we as a country engage as much as possible the very many talents of older Australians. As life expectancy extends, we need to encourage as much as possible those older Australians to continue to contribute productively to Australian society.

On the Sunshine Coast we have lots of older Australians who are retired and who are active and energetic. Frankly, without the input of older Australians on the Sunshine Coast, our volunteering organisations would not be able to perform as they do, they would not be able to do the wonderful job that they do, and our community would be very much for the poorer. Governments cannot afford to pay for every service, and older Australians, through their active involvement in community organisations, have an incredible ability, an incredible capacity and an incredible record in making sure that their fellow Australians enjoy a wonderful lifestyle and a wonderful standard of life. It is important that we never lose sight of the benefits and advantages of an ageing population that includes citizens who are sensible, mature, skilled, caring, responsible and respectable and who are still able to contribute much to our Australian society.

We have lots of seniors and retirees who want to be involved in charity work, and thank heavens that such a thing occurs in our society. Our community organisations need these older Australians, and they ask for very little. What we as elected representatives have to do—and I suggest this in a bipartisan way—is to recognise that contribution and at times give a little bit of extra assistance to people to whom we as a community owe so much.

In the time available to me, I would like to briefly draw attention to a number of hardworking senior members of the community in my electorate of Fisher on the Sunshine Coast and highlight very clearly the value of our older residents. Dawn Chalkley and Eric Brusewitz, who live at Kawana Waters, have had years of experience in organising charity drives. In retirement they have continued to use their know-how to benefit the community in such matters. They launched and managed a collection drive in early 2009 to help the victims of the Victorian bushfires, and that successful campaign was followed by support for the flood victims. That campaign had a wonderful response and was extraordinarily successful. Eric and Dawn were passionate about the need and they were determined to make a difference. They worked hard despite some minor challenging medical conditions which made it extra difficult. They are examples of the value of the experience, wisdom and maturity of older Australians.

Another hardworking senior in our community is Florence Woods of Maleny. Mrs Woods was the recipient of the Fisher Citizen of the Year award on Australia Day this year for her efforts through various community groups. She has worked hard to make a real difference for her fellow citizens for over 25 years. In conjunction with the Fisher Australia Day Committee, I was pleased to be able to present this award to someone who is so passionate about staying active and helping her community. Mrs Woods has volunteered with the Maleny Show Society catering committee for 25 years, where she is regularly seen marshalling the troops at the annual show. She has also been the chairperson of the youth fellowships at her Presbyterian church for 20 years and president of Erowal Nursing Home auxiliary for 10 years. On top of that, Mrs Woods has been with the Maleny Hospital auxiliary for five years and the Maleny Busy Needles for the past three years. She has been an energetic and committed community worker and she has made an incredibly positive and practical difference to her fellow citizens in the Sunshine Coast hinterland.

These examples highlight the energy, commitment and willingness to help that is common among senior Australians. They highlight the value of older Australians and retirees who may be retired and no longer working for wages but who are still working to make a difference in the community. The knowledge, experience and skills of mature people like Dawn, Eric, Florence and many others in Fisher on the Sunshine Coast and around the nation provide a great benefit to the local community.

I think that volunteer work carried out by older Australians is volunteer work which we as an entire community should encourage, and we should facilitate other people to perform in a similar way. These people are altruistic, they love Australia, they have helped to make us great, and they want to make this nation an even more wonderful place in which to live.