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Thursday, 30 April 1987
Page: 2249

Mr GOODLUCK(11.09) —I continue with the matter I was talking about last night-specifically, the problems of the elderly in Australia. I thought that I would read into Hansard a few statistics that I think are very important. Whilst one could get into the political argument on who is best looking after the elderly people of Australia-whether it be the Australian Labor Party or the Liberal Party of Australia, et cetera-I think it is completely unnecessary to do so. Quite frankly, I believe that the elderly, for many years, have been subject to political torture. If there is to be a decrease in the pension, of course it is highlighted by somebody or other. Things that are going to occur are highlighted and we are left with a political dog fight. I do not think many of us really understand that as people get older-to the 65 to 70 years age group-everything worries them. It does not matter what it is; people become more worried about some of the simpler things of life, and that is understandable.

I would like to read some statistics that, incidentally, have been very difficult to obtain. They show that 1.6 million Australians are 65 years of age or over. Over the next 15 years, whilst the total population will increase by approximately 19 per cent, the proportion of people over the age of 65 will increase by 30 per cent. By the turn of the century, one-third will be over 50 years of age. By the year 2001, the number of people who have reached retiring age will be 2.5 times higher than it is now. The number of people aged 85 years and over by the year 2021 will be four times greater than it is today. The outlay on social security and welfare payments is approximately 28 per cent of total government outlays. This really means that 25c in the dollar goes to social security or welfare payments. Forty per cent of this outlay is directed to the elderly.

I would like to make an interesting point about life expectancy. We hear the experts talk about the elderly. We hear from some people who seem to know everything. However, I am afraid that they are insulated from the real problems. But some very interesting statistics come up when one starts to talk to the elderly and listen to groups which are vitally concerned with those people. For example, I think that all males should be aware of the fact that the average life expectancy of women in 1986 was approximately 80 years of age. For men it was 73 years of age. By the end of 1987 the figures for women will be 83 years of age and for men 74 years of age. So, of course, the problems are going to be more severe in the years to come.

I would like to give a very simple example. Many elderly people leave their children in the heavily and densely populated areas of Melbourne and Sydney and go to settle in holiday resorts such as the Gold Coast. They go with the intention of staying in these places and living a normal and happy life. When one partner regrettably dies-and, of course, invariably it is the husband-the other partner is left alone. That person is then faced with all the problems of loneliness brought about by such things as the fact that the children live elsewhere. One of the interesting problems that I never thought of and which one never hears talked about is the problem of mobility. For example, many women never learn to drive. As a result they are left in the house by themselves and their worries become even more exacerbated. That is a simple example of one of the problems that can arise.

We are told that 14 per cent of old people-and these statistics were also very hard to obtain-living alone do not have enough money to care adequately for themselves after paying rent. Eleven per cent of their accommodation in Australia is highly unsatisfactory. These statistics, which I repeat were very hard to obtain, have not been the subject of media coverage; they have not been made known. The fact that some people are suffering absolute loneliness and finding it very difficult to keep and maintain their homes is and remains behind the scenes. One can get into a political argument about whose fault it is. One can argue that rising costs are affecting these people. But we have to resist such arguments if we genuinely want to come up with recommendations that will help the aged in Australia today.

The intensely political nature of the lobbies and pressure groups concerned about the welfare of old people is one of the first things to strike an investigator. I call myself an investigator because the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Howard) set up a task force which included the honourable member for Cowper (Mr Nehl), from the National Party of Australia, Senator Susan Knowles from the Senate and me to look into the problems of the aged in Australia and to bring down sound recommendations that will help formulate policies in the future. I suppose that this is a political task force. However, we have tried to be apolitical. We have gone all around Australia and talked to the groups that are heavily involved with the problems of the aged. We have uncovered some hidden things that would make one absolutely cry.

The problem of loneliness and the problems associated with it are so devastating to elderly people that one realises that more needs to be done. We need to stop the political arguments that are always being put forward. We need to stop alarming the elderly people of Australia about the problems associated with those arguments. We need to do more. It is argued that we spend X amount of dollars on creating sporting facilities. The Minister for Sport, Recreation and Tourism (Mr John Brown), who is at the table, takes great pride-and I can understand this-in assisting in the building of sporting facilities all over Australia. As politicians we all like to get our name up on plaques. We like to see the words `Opened by Bruce Goodluck, the honourable member for Franklin', `Opened by Michael Hodgman, the honourable member for Denison' et cetera. We love it, because that is part and parcel of politics. But sometimes I think this is overdone. Of course, I support the young of Australia who need the sporting and other facilities which are so important to them. But I believe quite firmly that not enough money is directed to places where the elderly could go and live in a decent way.

Mr John Brown —We have very good programs of sport for the elderly.

Mr GOODLUCK —I understand that, but we are talking about only a few programs up front. Many of the elderly are too frightened to go out of their homes. Many of them do not want to join senior citizen clubs. They want to live in their own homes. They want to be independent and do not want to live any other sort of life. Therefore, they need to be taken care of.

The honourable member for Cowper and I have been to some magnificent nursing homes around Australia. I do not want to criticise them but some of them are really only places in which to die. They are an elephant's graveyard. That is not being disrespectful to them; they are the end of the line. That is the reason why we have talked about integration, of trying to bring young people into nursing homes to talk to the elderly. Nursing homes should not be regarded as a place to die; they should be places in which elderly people can spend the last years of their lives in complete happiness. Of course, I am looking for the utopian situation.

Mrs Sullivan —Many do.

Mr GOODLUCK —Yes, I am sure they do. I do not mean to criticise all of the nursing homes. I repeat that some of them are magnificent. We are all different. Regrettably some people have to go into nursing homes because they need care and attention. It is useless talking about people staying in their own homes when they cannot be looked after there. We have domiciliary sisters who do a very good job but they are guided by certain rules and regulations. Some of them are not allowed to sweep under tables or to lift. So how the dickens can they look after elderly people in their own homes? It is easy for a person to get up front and say these sorts of things but in practice it is not as simple as that.

I know it would be difficult to do, but would it not be marvellous if some of the money that is spent on magnificent sporting facilities and on the duplication of community centres were directed to places not termed nursing homes but places where sporting and recreation facilities were available so that elderly people could live the final years of their lives in more happiness than they are at the moment? We always hear about the person who is able to speak for himself, who is able to walk and talk. The lonely people who live by themselves in the cities of Melbourne or Sydney, where high rents make it difficult for them to survive, need special care and attention. The honourable member for Cowper would agree that many of these people are being forced into a life of squalor because they cannot afford the high rents. Some of the older parts of Melbourne and Sydney are becoming trendy and it is becoming expensive to rent there. Therefore, we need to watch this problem very carefully and we need to do more about it.

Mr Hodgman —You have always fought for the pensioners-always.

Mr GOODLUCK —We are all going to become old one day-both the honourable member and I, regrettably. Some people do not even reach old age because of the pressures they live under and so on. Some become very old very young. We need to be aware of the problems. Sometimes I get so mad about the political situations that occur-the dog fights and the fact that the elderly become political footballs. If there is to be a decrease in the pension we need to be very careful that the problems are not highlighted. I repeat that when one gets old, one starts to worry about every conceivable thing. If we all participate in this sort of political footballing, we should be ashamed of ourselves.

Let me talk just briefly about the assets test which is a part of this Bill.

Mr Nehl —It will go.

Mr GOODLUCK —When we get back into government it will go; there is no doubt about that. It is not so much the money but the fact that elderly people do not like anybody asking them things about their business and they do not like to think that some bureaucrat will find out about the few dollars they may have put aside to bury themselves with, et cetera. The point I make is that as one gets older one worries about every conceivable thing. The assets test is one thing that worried the majority of pensioners. It was introduced just to catch a few.

Mr Hodgman —It still petrifies them.

Mr GOODLUCK —It still petrifies them. My mother-in-law, who is 90 years old, lives at St Helens. She is a marvellous woman; she rides a push bike; she looks after herself; she lives in a lovely house by herself and keeps it clean and neat. But she is lucky because she has had good health and she has good family support.

Mr Hodgman —And she has a good son-in-law.

Mr GOODLUCK —I thank the honourable member. She has good family support. She is a good example of a pensioner. But on the other side of the coin, some people we meet who are 65 years old are sick, old and need help and assistance. I know that it is very difficult for government to direct that help and assistance but we should do more about it. I apologise for talking about myself but in 1979 I suggested that we should create a portfolio for the elderly. I would be a very good shadow Minister for that, too. I thought that we should create-

Mr Hodgman —What about Social Security?

Mr GOODLUCK —I would be a better shadow Minister at that. I suggested that we should take pensioners away from social security and create that portfolio. Let us face it; in the next 15 years the number of pensioners who will require assistance and help will increase. There will be 1.6 million pensioners in our population. Some of the trendy groups and very sophisticated lobby groups-for example, the Wilderness Society of Tasmania-seem to have all the say and the media seem to give them all the coverage. They seem to be able to dictate their terms. But a person talking about 1.6 million pensioners is regarded as a bit of a ratbag at times and the media is not interested in him because that is not sensational. It will not have an effect on people. All governments need to be very careful in the future about what they do in caring for the elderly of Australia. I know that the honourable member for Cowper, the honourable member for Denison (Mr Hodgman) and all other honourable members whose electorates I do not know--

Mr Peter Fisher —Mallee.

Mr GOODLUCK —Thank you, Mallee.

Mr Webster —Macquarie.

Mr GOODLUCK —Yes, Macquarie. And, of course, the honourable member for Moncrieff (Mrs Sullivan) and the honourable member for Petrie (Mr Hodges) who will be speaking in a moment are all very concerned about the subject. They will speak about different aspects of the Bill but I think they all agree with me that we should forget about the politics and get on with looking after the elderly of Australia. In our formulations of policy we might have different ideas and different intepretations--

Mrs Sullivan —Not on this one.

Mr GOODLUCK —No, we are all together on this one. There is no factionism. There are no wets and dries-whatever that means-and there are no lefts and rights, et cetera. We all need to head in the one direction and one way in which parties could become unified is by having one aim in mind-the goodwill necessary to benefit the Australian people.