By Ian Henschke, Chief Advocate
It was a great honour to represent National Seniors at a major event in Melbourne last week. I was master of ceremonies and chair of a panel discussion at ANZ headquarters. The occasion was the launch of two major reports conducted by Professor Roslyn Russell and her team at RMIT University.
The reports were the Money Minded Impact Report and the 2018 Financial Wellbeing of Older Australians Report.
On the morning of the launch The Age newspaper ran a feature article titled “A tax perk we can’t afford”. It talked about the generational divide and asked the reader to ponder which side they were on. The article by Jessica Irvine said: “If the words ‘I’ve paid taxes all my life’ have ever slipped from your lips, you’re on one side.” It went on to attack self-funded retirees who wanted to hang on to their franking credits.
I mentioned this article in my opening remarks to the ANZ event because I wanted to point to financial wellbeing for many self-funded retirees being dependent on those franking credits that have been part of the retirement income system since 2000. I said we’re continuing to fight for a fair go for them and for all older Australians: those still working; those on full or part pensions; and self-funded retirees.
Prof. Russell spoke passionately about the disparity in retirement incomes in Australia. It’s a mixed picture. She cited home ownership as one of the most critical factors for financial wellbeing. And she spoke of her great concern over the falling rate of home ownership and the rise in renting and homelessness.
At one point, she was overcome by emotion while talking about the number of older women who are living in poverty. The room was filled with frontline workers and they couldn’t help but be moved by her words and her work. It’s rare to see someone so passionate about their research - research that showed one in four pensioners don’t own their own home.
Prof. Russell also highlighted the number of women who, for a range of reasons (often caring for family), haven’t had sufficient time in the workforce to accumulate superannuation. They are struggling and often struggling badly.
At the end of her talk she received a rousing round of applause and then we had a keynote address from Age Discrimination Commissioner Dr Kay Patterson. She, too, spoke passionately about ending the scourge of age discrimination and challenged all employers to publicly list their workforce age profile. Dr Patterson said too many companies and employers were shedding people in their fifties and were reluctant to employ anyone over that age.
I was proud to share the stage with Dr Patterson, ANZ Customer Advocate Jo McKinstray, and the Benevolent Society’s Executive Director Ageing Services, Andrew Collins.
During a Q & A session, topics included the need to recognise the rights of the 2.9 million Australians who sit on the other side of the digital divide; how banks can help fight financial elder abuse; and, of course, the key topic of the day, how to achieve financial wellbeing in a nation where far too many people are falling through the safety net.
It was wonderful to also formally announce to the audience of around 100 people from all areas of advocacy and research that we are working to Fix Pension Poverty with our partner the Benevolent Society.
These are interesting times. It seems home ownership - or rather the lack of it - is going to be the big issue in the decades ahead. If nothing is done about affordability, in the next 30 years it’s expected the home ownership rate will fall to below 60%.
Imagine an Australia where almost every second person rents. And imagine the rate of pension poverty then.
Another great thing about the event was the networking after the launch. The topic of how to fix problems was on everyone’s lips. I felt proud to be part of an organisation that’s committed to improving the lives of older Australians.
You can read more about the ANZ reports here.
Just a couple of days later, at the top of Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s list of achievements in his first 100 days in office were initiatives National Seniors had called for: not raising the pension age to 70; and setting up the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety.
I recently also attended a Round Table discussion before the Aged Care Royal Commissioner Ms Lynelle Briggs and her team and presented a background paper. In next week’s Connect I’ll be able to tell you more about the Royal Commission and what is happening.
Stay connected until next time.
Caption: (From left) National Seniors Chief Advocate Ian Henschke; Principal Research Fellow at RMIT’s School of Economics, Finance and Marketing Professor Roslyn Russell; Age Discrimination Commissioner Dr Kay Patterson; ANZ Head of Australia Operations Anne Young; and the Benevolent Society’s Executive Director Ageing Services Andrew Collins.