Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard   

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Monday, 21 September 1987
Page: 442


Mr CHYNOWETH(10.26) —That is correct. The honourable member for Wannon should learn the rules. Thank you, Madam Speaker. One never ceases to be amazed by mother nature. Although each moment is special, the 24 hours that constituted the 192nd day of the 1,987th year since the birth of our Lord should hold particular significance for many people-indeed, a great many people. It is my purpose today to highlight this particular day in our calendar-11 July. To the careful observer the events of this day have always held special significance. For instance, 11 July is the national day of the People's Republic of Mongolia. Furthermore, on 11 July 1274, Robert the Bruce, King of Scotland, was born. On 11 July 1533, Henry VIII was excommunicated. On 11 July 1916, Edward Gough Whitlam was born. And, of course, on 11 July 1987, the Hawke Labor Government was elected for an historic third consecutive term.

However, on this momentous day another cause celebre went almost unnoticed. The human being population of the planet Earth passed the five billion mark. Such a figure is easily stated and, I suggest, more easily disregarded. I wonder how many people who saw the photograph in the Melbourne Sun News Pictorial newspaper of the world's five billionth resident have ever contemplated the problems presented by a changing population. Unfortunately, most people see these problems as just peculiar to countries such as China, India or the continent of Africa. How wrong they are.

The population of Australia is greying. By 2021 the number of Australians over 60 will double to in excess of five million, and the number of very old people, over 85, will triple. We are in the middle of a life extension revolution and within a few years most of the health problems that beset people will no longer be problems. The general outlook for Australia's population in the future is one of moderate growth. By 2051 the population will climb to between 27 million and 32 million. In Australia, the tale of greying is not just an epic about the proliferation of old Australians but also relates to the burdens placed upon young Australians; the demand for single housing, the cost of health care, the role of the family unit, and even the long term strategy for politicians. Realistically, the bulk of the costs of supporting the aged population will fall on the public purse. At present 20 per cent of Australia's gross domestic product is spent on social services. By 2021 it will be over 24 per cent.

Clearly, the challenge is to meet greatly increased demands for services. For example, perhaps a rise in productivity could give scope for modifying the share of the fruits between workers and pensioners. Certainly new economic, social, and cultural answers must be found. At present there are 15 aged for every 100 workers. By 2021 there will be at least 24 aged for every 100 workers.

I am pleased to say that my Government has sought to find these answers by establishing a broader, more equitable tax base, by initiating programs that encourage independence and self-respect, and by forming the Commission for the Future. However, the real panacea lies not in Government, but within the Australian people. They should adequately provide for the twilight years of their lives through participation in superannuation schemes, by entering preventative medicine programs, and by adopting a conserving stance towards the environment in which they live.

We must not be fooled by complacency or denied by adopting contingencies that fail in later life when our weary bodies make restitution impossible. The words of Benjamin Franklin, delivered appropriately enough on 11 July 1765, ring a useful reminder to the people of Australia to prepare for senior citizenry:

Idleness and pride tax with a heavier hand than kings and parliaments.

The Labor Government has adopted a strategy of maintaining people at home for as long as possible. However, older people need to be placed in a setting that is appropriate to their physical needs. We must therefore consider responses to the rapid increase in the demand for single houses, the cases of elderly citizens left without family support, the need to increase research into ways of preventing diseases of the aged, and the imminence of a blowout in health care and social security spending. Other questions remain unanswered. What will be the effect of technology upon an aging population? Should early retirement be encouraged? Are jobs for the young more important? We must prepare now to look after those who have worked so hard in the past that they can now enjoy the fruits of their labour.