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Thursday, 27 September 2001
Page: 28199

Senator PATTERSON (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs and Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Foreign Affairs) (1:21 PM) —I am delighted to take a few seconds to speak on the Abolition of Compulsory Age Retirement (Statutory Officeholders) Bill 2001. I know it is non-controversial, but I have to say `Hallelujah!' because, when I sat on the other side of the chamber, every time a bill came in—whether for the maritime museum authority or the national museum authority—with a compulsory retirement age for holders of statutory positions, Senator Baume, I think it was, and I moved a clause systematically, bit by bit, to get rid of that dreadfully discriminatory clause. We were told over and over that it could not be done and we were told over and over that we could not get rid of the compulsory retirement age for public servants. In two parliamentary sessions, one after the other, I put up private member's bills.

A perfect example is the National Maritime Museum. They had an ex-naval officer with enormous experience on the board who had to retire at 65 and who was not able to continue being a holder of a statutory office. It seemed to me to be a ridiculous system in this day and age when people live longer, when they are healthier and when they have a wealth of experience, they can give back to the community—for example, in positions on statutory boards, government boards and the like and in institutions such as the National Library, the Maritime College and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority. When I look at all the institutions listed here—there are pages of them—no wonder Senator Baume and I could not get through them all. Every time one of these came up in the chamber and we had a chance to amend it, we did it. Now in government we have been able to include the whole lot.

I was responsible for the government's response to the International Year of Older Persons. As a result of that year, we have seen enormous changes to attitudes to older people. The community is much more accepting and much more positive about the contribution older people can make. During our consultations right round Australia, older people kept saying to us—they did not ask for more money—`What we want is to be seen positively, to be seen as contributors rather than as takers.' In this bill we are saying to people, `Yes, you have got ability; yes, you have got something to contribute; yes, we have listened to those consultations and we have responded.' I do not often say this about bills, but I am delighted to commend this bill to the chamber.