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Monday, 28 February 2011
Page: 1529

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP (11:06 AM) —I present the Abolition of Age Limit on Payment of the Superannuation Guarantee Charge Bill 2011 and the explanatory memorandum. In doing so, I am honouring a commitment that I made during the lead-up to the last election as the shadow minister for seniors that we would abolish the superannuation guarantee age limit. We did this for a variety of reasons. Most importantly, it is one of equity, fairness and recognising the importance of the mature-age worker in the workforce and our need to remove impediments to having people continue to participate in the paid workforce should they wish to do so. One of those impediments is this limit on the payment of the superannuation guarantee charge.

Currently, the legislation provides that it is only compulsory to make this payment until a worker turns 70. Clearly, there are many people who remain in the paid workforce—and we would like more of them to remain in the paid workforce—who are discriminated against, because they do not receive the superannuation payment. The purpose of this bill is very simple: it removes the section of the existing legislation which states that it is not compulsory to pay it.

If we look at the arguments that go on currently, we see that the Intergenerational report is often used as a tool by this government to beat older workers about the head and to tell them that the future for them is doom and gloom, that they are a burden on society and that they are a problem that has to be dealt with. The reality is that the mature-age worker, a category which begins at 45—and if you have ever met someone who has lost their job at 45 and had difficulty getting back into the workforce, you will understand why that is the period we count mature-age workers from. We need to see people who are in their 50s, in their 60s and, indeed, in their 70s, if they wish, use their skills and their abilities for the benefit of the whole of the economy and the people of Australia as well as for themselves.

In 2001 Access Economics did an excellent piece of research entitled Population ageing and the economy in which they said:

… tax reform may add somewhere in the region of 2.5 per cent to the annual national income of Australians’, and that promoting national competition policy may add 5.5 per cent to the national income. The desire to ensure mature workers are not encouraged out of the workforce simply as a result of their age - as opposed to their competence - has the potential to raise the income of all Australians by a similar amount. Average per capita incomes of Australians could be lifted by 4 per cent if workforce participation by 55-70 year olds rose by just 10 percentage points.

So there are good economic reasons to see the encouragement of mature-age workers in the workforce, and changing this legislation is a removal of a barrier and an indication to the Australian people that we value their skills.

There are key reasons for employing and retaining mature-age workers. There is no evidence that productivity declines with age. Indeed, I refer to an experiment that is being done by BMW in Germany to deal with its ageing workforce considerations. It has built a new plant that takes the stress off the body on the process line by having things like a softer floor, which means that joints, ankles, knees and so on are less impacted when people are standing for a long time. They are have been given additional training and skills. The outcome of the experiment that they conducted with a particular group saw an increase of seven per cent in the productivity of those mature-age workers. They are adopting this policy across the whole of their enterprise.

It is countries which have had a very low birth rate which are experiencing the lack of skilled workers far more than countries which have maintained a reasonable birth rate. Germany is down to around 1.4, whereas Australia has risen from 1.7 to 1.9 births per female. That plus our immigration policy means that we continue to grow. Those countries that have low birth rates and have seen that they simply do not have young workers coming on have had to reach this position earlier than we have perhaps had to. But the reality is that the great boom of the baby boomers that existed from the fifties to the eighties simply does not exist anymore. Indeed, last year the number of people who turned 55 was exactly the same as the number of people who turned 15. The old dynamic, where we used to have a large cohort of young people who were much cheaper to employ, versus an older workforce that saw early retirements, particularly in the eighties and nineties, simply does not exist anymore. That early retirement phenomenon that we went through in the eighties and nineties has led to a greater problem in dealing with the question of benefits than would otherwise have been the case if we had had a more thoughtful policy of keeping people in the workforce.

When looking at the so-called skills shortage that we often hear discussed in this place, if we stop talking about those people who are eligible to participate as being between the age of 15 and 65 and open up the opportunity for people who wish to remain in the paid workforce to do so then we would see the utilisation of skills that currently we are not tapping into. We hear that we have a very low unemployment rate, and that is very largely due to the fact that we have fewer young people leaving school and coming into the workforce than used to be the case. If we retire at the same rate of early retirement, we exacerbate the problem. If we are really looking to the shape of the 21st century and really being forward thinking then we will take out of our mindset the concept of age—just as we have taken out the concept of sex—in employment and the only test will be one of competency. We will see people remain in the workforce for as long as they wish, because they are competent in that job.

I would like to see it be just as offensive to talk about people in terms of ageism as it is with both sexism and racism. They are equally offensive. If we really want to see an inclusive society where all talents are used then this is the way we should proceed. This bill can be the first step in pursuing that aim of seeing a truly inclusive society which values the skills of all people who wish to continue to use those skills in the paid workforce. The simple facts are that if you work for yourself you will work a lot longer than other people. If you are in small business you will work longer. If you work in a large firm or for a big employer you are more likely to find yourself out the door prematurely, when you have years that you want to give and you want to continue to serve.

By saying that we will remove this impediment of not having the superannuation guarantee charge paid past the age of 70, we are making a very strong statement. When we were in government and when I was the minister for aged care, we did abolish the Public Service compulsory retirement age of 65. So we now have people in the Public Service who are working well into their 70s and giving splendid performance.

I would urge all members across this chamber to recognise that the government’s promise to raise that age limit to 75 is not adequate. It is in the interests of inclusiveness, justice and the economic prosperity of the nation to remove that age limit altogether, and I would encourage all in this chamber to allow this bill to have a second reading and allow it to proceed into the law.

Bill read a first time.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. BC Scott)—In accordance with standing order 41(c), the second reading will be made an order of the day for the next sitting.