Government about-face on retirement age welcomed

Australia’s peak advocacy group for seniors has welcomed the Federal Government’s announcement it will abandon its policy to lift the retirement age to 70.

National Seniors Australia Chief Advocate Ian Henschke said today the political reality of the policy appeared to have prevailed.

“Every second voter in Australia is now aged over 50 and being told they might have to work past 67 was not well received,” Mr Henschke said.

“Politicians have been talking about the plight of older Australians and this change of policy is a good indication they are finally listening. This policy was not just about people planning for retirement today – it would have affected younger generations, too.”

Raising the retirement age to 70 flew in the face of widespread discrimination against older people in the workplace, Mr Henschke said.

“Even workers as young as 50 find it hard to secure work if they lose their job through redundancy or for some other reason,” Mr Henschke said. “People who are involved in manual or physically demanding jobs are often not capable of working until they are 70. Imagine being a construction worker, labourer, or a nurse and being told you’re not eligible for a pension.

“We know many older workers end up on Newstart because they just can’t get a job. In fact, 25 per cent of people on Newstart are aged over 55 and unemployed Australians aged 60 to 64 are on unemployment benefit, on average, almost twice as long as those aged 25 to 29.”

Mr Henschke said several other issues affecting older Australians, including out-of-pocket health care costs and the inadequacy of the age pension, needed to be addressed urgently.

Of the 1.5 million older Australians receiving a full age pension, 40 per cent relied on it as their sole source of income and one in four were living below the poverty line. National Seniors and the Benevolent Society have jointly called for an independent age pension tribunal to take the politics out of the issue.

Mr Henschke said the proposed tribunal would calculate a fair and adequate pension rate, along with supplements, based on need and circumstances. Its decisions would be accepted by government without debate in the same way monetary policy was set by the Reserve Bank.

“It’s time to take the politics out of the pension and not look at the next four years, but the next 40 years.”

Inefficiencies in the health system also needed to be addressed, with average out-of-pocket expenses having increased by three times the inflation rate over the past decade.

“Older consumers are being forced to give up their health insurance because of rising costs, while private health funds made $1.4 billion in after-tax profit in 2017, an increase of 7.3 per cent over the previous year,” Mr Henschke said. “These are taxpayer-subsidised businesses and we question the appropriateness of this level of profits.”

Media contact: Lynda Schekoske (07) 3233 9106 or 0488 047 380.

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