Having come a long way since being founded as ‘Later Years’ in July 1976, the National Seniors of today began as the brainchild of mates Everald Compton and Bert Martin.
“I was only 45 years old at the time,” Everald recalls.
“I was sitting with Bert Martin listening to a speech by a trade union leader of the day, Jack Egerton. He was reciting off to the Rotary Club all the benefits you gain by being a member of a trade union, and Bert Martin leans over to me and says, ‘It’s terrible that trade unions are organised like this but older Australians aren’t organised. We really should do something.’ So we did.”
Formed in Queensland under the moniker Later Years, the organisation began to develop a national footprint in the 1990s, merging with similar groups in New South Wales and Western Australia. It was then they adopted the name National Seniors.
The big thing we had come to realise was that members wanted us to work on political, not just financial, benefits - having things done about their pension and their superannuation, healthcare and retirement villages.
“The big thing we had come to realise was that members wanted us to work on political, not just financial, benefits — having things done about their pension and their superannuation, healthcare and retirement villages,” Everald says.
“We were a Queensland organisation and we found when we were going down to Canberra that they took no notice of us, simply because we didn’t represent the
whole of Australia, so we decided we had to do something about that.”
Over time, their political connections, geographic presence and impact grew.
“We used to lobby for an increase in the pension and, while we got moderate increases here and there, the big one came when Wayne Swan was the Treasurer in 2009 - after a year of negotiations we achieved the largest increase in the pension with an additional $35 a fortnight. That is still the largest increase ever achieved,” Everald says.
We were the pioneers who got the Age Discrimination Act through parliament, making it illegal to discriminate against an older person on the basis of age.
“We were the pioneers who got the Age Discrimination Act through parliament, making it illegal to discriminate against an older person on the basis of age. We got through legislation that older people no longer had to declare their age as company directors. It had been the law that when you got to 72 years of age you had to declare your age every year and be subject to re-election, even though other directorscould stay on as long as they wanted to.
“We were part of a movement to get the Seniors Card across Australia and we advanced in what we could offer, such as travel and insurance.”
But Everald acknowledges, “the world has changed a hell of a lot since 1976”.
Challenges aside, Everald still believes that National Seniors - and older Australians in their individual communities - have a vital part to play in creating change.
“There are lots of older people like me who need to get involved and use our experience to change the world. There is definitely a role out there for an older person to play,” he says.
“There are enormous challenges ahead for the political system, but I also believe there’s got to be an alliance between older and younger Australians. There’s a lot of younger people out there who believe they’re carrying oldies, and that we’re in clover.
“They’re struggling to pay their university debts, they’re struggling to buy their first home and all sorts of other things, and I believe that we have to go into partnership with them, helping them to get started in life, helping them to get into businesses and professions, helping them with their education. We need to create communities where we support each other, not retirement ghettos.”