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Wednesday, 11 August 2004
Page: 26142

Senator HUMPHRIES (2:07 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Family and Community Services, Senator Patterson. Will the minister update the Senate on how the Howard government is providing greater opportunity and choice for mature age Australians, and is the minister aware of alternative policies?

Senator PATTERSON (Minister for Family and Community Services and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Status of Women) —I thank Senator Humphries for his question, because it gives me the opportunity to talk about the way in which the Howard government has taken very seriously the need to create opportunity and choice for mature age Australians. In particular, mature age Australians should have the opportunity and choice to continue to participate in the work force or to re-enter the work force. It is about choice and it is about opportunity to do either of those two things. Work force participation by Australians in their mature years assists them in a number of ways. It assists them to maintain their social networks and it also assists them in regard to their health and in being able to accumulate greater resources for their full retirement. We have introduced a range of measures for mature age people. We have reduced the tax burden on people over 65 through the senior Australians tax offset. Single older Australians are now able to earn up to $20,500 and a couple are now able to earn up to $32,000 without paying income tax. If they choose to work beyond age pension age, they may be eligible for a tax-free lump sum of up to $28,000 under the pension bonus scheme.

The Attorney-General introduced the Commonwealth age discrimination legislation. It is very important that Senator Humphries asked me this question. I introduced private member's bills in two parliaments in an attempt to get rid of the compulsory retirement age for Commonwealth public servants. What happened? Labor said it was too hard to give older Commonwealth public servants the opportunity to continue working. We have been able to do that, but Labor said it was too hard—that they could not work out the compensation, they could not do it. I introduced two private member's bills and you did nothing. I attempted to do it from opposition, but you did nothing. Senator Humphries, public servants who might be thinking about who they will vote for in this coming election ought to know that we are about supporting them so that they can continue to work if they choose. We have given older people earlier access to superannuation. We have also given anyone who is on a lower income an opportunity to contribute to their superannuation through the co-contributions scheme. In fact this will help older people to accumulate superannuation benefits at a much faster rate, for the time when they fully retire.

The Prime Minister's business community partnership is now looking at how we can encourage and inform business about the importance and the value of employing more mature age workers. But the most important way to give older workers opportunity is to create jobs. We have created nearly 1.3 million jobs to give jobs to all Australians, including older Australians. In fact 983,800 jobs have been created for those over 45. It is very informative to look at a breakdown of the figures. In 1996, the unemployment rate for males aged between 55 and 59 was 8.9 per cent. What is it now? It is 4.2 per cent. Under Labor, one in 10 people aged between 60 and 64 were unemployed—9.9 per cent. It is now 3.6 per cent. If you look at the figures for women, they are very similar. If you take women aged between 45 and 54, the unemployment rate was 5.3 per cent in 1996. It is 3.2 per cent now. The best way to give older people an opportunity is to give them a job. Through our personal advisers through the Australians Working Together initiative, we have assisted people who have been on benefits for a long time, including older unemployed people. We have just undertaken a recent survey of Centrelink customers. (Time expired)