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Monday, 21 February 2011
Page: 714

Mrs ANDREWS (8:57 PM) —I rise to support the main points of the motion put forward by the member for Shortland. My electorate of McPherson has a significant number of older Australians and, in my opinion, they make a considerable contribution to our community. Today there are two specific issues outlined in the motion that I would like to address, the first being the contribution of seniors as volunteers. Volunteers are very important to local communities, and the southern Gold Coast is certainly no exception. In many instances it would be easy to miss their contribution as most are not out trumpeting their own successes; they are in the background working hard generally for no reward other than the satisfaction of helping a fellow human being. The bulk of our volunteers are senior Australians—retirees who, having left their paid work life behind, have begun another work life. There is no pay. The hours may be long and the work not glamorous, but the rewards are there in the sense of satisfaction in helping others and making a contribution to the wellbeing of the community.

I have firsthand experience of the operation of Scouts Queensland and know the extent to which that organisation relies on volunteers not just as scout leaders but to assist with administration, promotion, committee work and fundraising. Many of the volunteers in scouting contribute a huge number of hours and many of them are in the age bracket of 50 years and over. Without the contribution of the senior members of scouts, that organisation would struggle to continue to provide programs for today’s youth

Neighbourhood Watches operate successfully with the support and contribution of seniors, who are the backbone of the organisation. Community safety would surely be compromised without their dedicated contribution to their neighbours and to the residential areas in which they live. Volunteers in policing, veterans support groups, women’s shelters, playgroups, groups linked to our churches and, indeed, even organisations that focus on supporting seniors themselves would struggle without the participation of seniors. If volunteering were to diminish, there would be a significant social cost. The non-government organisations that utilise the efforts of volunteers would simply cease to exist if they were forced to rely upon paid employees.

The second issue I would like to address today is that of employment related age discrimination. Let me start by acknowledging that discrimination on the basis of age continues to exist in relation to employment and that this is to the detriment of those who are discriminated against and of employers who do not receive the benefit from the contributions that seniors can make to businesses. Those positive contributions include experience, a mentoring role, reliability and loyalty to work colleagues and to the employer.

Age discrimination does not necessarily start when a potential employee becomes officially a senior, or even close. It can start much earlier. Some organisations prefer to recruit juniors. Others prefer to present a youthful exterior to the marketplace and recruit accordingly. Sadly, there are industries that are reluctant to consider an employee who has not even reached middle age and, with this being the case, you can understand the struggle that someone who is perceived to be at the end of their working life faces. According to the National Seniors Association 2010 election submission:

In 2009 almost 60,000 Australians aged over 55 counted as discouraged workers, that is: they wanted to work but had stopped looking because no one would employ them. The main reason cited was ‘being considered too old by employers’.

We need to combat this, and we should be looking at ways to do so. The Henry review noted that, relative to OECD countries, Australia’s participation rates are low for men and women aged between 55 and 64 and that ‘incentives for existing workers to remain in work are critical’.

There are some positive things that we can and should be doing, and I will deal with just one of those. We should be encouraging employers to look at flexible working arrangements that would benefit both the employer and the employees themselves, particularly work patterns and the arrangement of working hours: for example, the organisation of part-time work, job-sharing arrangements and flexibility to look at part-time hours worked perhaps over five mornings or five afternoons rather than two to three eight-hour days.

Our seniors contribute in many ways that they do not realise. They deserve our respect and they deserve our support, just as they support the broader community.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. BC Scott)—Order! The time allocated for this debate has expired. The debate is adjourned and the resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next sitting.