A year of change

By Chief Advocate Ian Henschke

As 2018 ends, it’s time to look back at the year and ahead to 2019.

What a year it’s been. As the ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus said: “Everything changes, and nothing stands still”.

And there’s been a lot of change. In March, Labor announced, if elected, it would make changes to franking credits and negative gearing. We fought the proposal to scrap franking credits for those with no taxable income. Labor changed its policy to include a pensioner ‘guarantee’ that would allow them to maintain their franking credits. More on this later.

In April we had our own change and that was to the way we do advocacy. We joined forces with a dozen other organisations to create the Alliance for a Fairer Retirement System. It allowed us to exert more political pressure, particularly for self-funded retirees, in the run-up to the election. To gain a bigger voice for aged pensioners, we also joined forces with the Benevolent Society in our campaign to Fix Pension Poverty.

We had some wins in the May Budget where there were more changes to superannuation, aged care and pension policy, along with incentives to employ older workers, a bigger pension work bonus and more action on elder abuse. After the Budget, a new free nationwide support network to advocate for the aged care rights of older Australians was launched. It’s known as OPAN (Older People’s Advocacy Network) and operates a national hot line (1800 700 600).

In August, the ACCC review of energy pricing made a series of recommendations for changes, many of which mirrored what we’ve been calling for. In our advocacy survey last year, you told us how hard you were being hit by power bills. We put in a submission voicing your anger and frustrations and offering some solutions.

According the ABS, as recently as 2005 just 1.6% of a household’s spending went on electricity. That climbed to 2.2% last year and jumped by 17% in the past 12 months. Now the electricity bill accounts for 2.5% of household spending.

One thing we should not forget was the big win we had this year on the pension age. The government was intent on pushing it out to 70. We’d been arguing it should stay at 67 for some time in a variety of forums, including a 2GB interview on 3 September 2017.

A year later, on 4 September 2018, the government changed direction and announced it would stay at 67. It’s a big win and shows that advocacy isn’t something that happens overnight.

How do you keep up with all this and all these changes? One way is to do what you’re doing now, stay connected via this electronic newsletter and via our revamped our website. It’s been praised for the change to the layout, look and ease of use. So, if you haven’t already, spend some time over the Christmas/New Year break and have a look at the new content, including the latest PAM (Policy Advocacy Media) video.

Members often ask me how they can become involved in our advocacy efforts and what action they can take. Go to our website and join our campaigns. You can donate, tell your stories and learn more about the topics that affect you. Electricity and health costs, housing and aged care, along with others, will be in the limelight in the run up to the 2019 budget and election.

Perhaps the biggest news of 2018 was the announcement of the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety. We support this critical investigation and we’ve been pleased with the input from you, our members, that’s helping to form our submission.

The Royal Commission will be looking at the issues surrounding residential and home care. We were there at the first consultation in Adelaide on November 27. Our research will be part of the material used by the commission to form its findings and we are going to play a critical role in this once-in-a-generation reform process.

The commission will run through until April 2020 with the preliminary findings being handed down in October next year. Our website will be your point of contact and news on all the progress.

Meanwhile, a parliamentary inquiry is being held into the implications of removing refundable franking credits. National Seniors has made a lengthy submission informed by members’ stories and views. The average loss for a self -funded retiree will be about $5000 a year. We are pleased to have fought for and helped win the Pensioner Guarantee, which is worth more than $1000 to aged pensioners.

With the federal election due in 2019, we are in preparing our list of priorities which, as always, is informed by what you, our members, tell us.

At the top of that list is our fight to fix pension poverty. We will continue the campaign with the Benevolent Society to take the politics out of the pension through the establishment of an independent tribunal to set the rate of the aged pension.

Given the focus created by the Royal Commission into Aged Care, we will be calling for a doubling of the number of high level home care packages, so we can ensure those who want to stay in their home can do so. We will also push for better quality care and dementia training for all aged care staff.

Better housing options are also a key to better ageing. We will call on the government to adopt a policy that enables pensioners to downsize and not lose financially.

Other key issues we will target in the run-up to the election are health costs and the need to tackle elder abuse.

This has been a year of big change, for good. We will build on that in 2019. The election and the Royal Commission will ensure our issues are kept front and centre. National Seniors at every level is working tirelessly to make sure Australia is a better place for all older Australians.

I want to take this opportunity to thank the small talented team of workers at National Seniors who are so dedicated to their roles in policy, advocacy and media. Most of all, I want to thank you for being a member and wish you and your families all the best for Christmas and for 2019, when together we will continue the fight for a fair go for all.

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