The rapid ageing of our population will cause Australia to face a very considerable upgrading of its passenger transport facilities, as seniors will overwhelmingly prefer using mass transit systems to driving their cars at an evergrowing cost on increasingly-clogged roads.
When we reach the point, 25 years from now, when seniors are more than 50 per cent of the population, we will find that many of them will be over 80 years of age, and will live mainly in our capital cities, not down at the beaches.
Our suburban rail systems, as well as the underground railways and light rail connections that we have yet to build, must be capable of serving every station in our major cities with a train every five minutes. This will require a massive capital investment — but it could be a profitable one if the railways are efficiently and creatively managed, splendidly marketed and made accessible at reasonable cost.
Provided that governments authorise superannuation funds to be the prime financiers of those railways, there will be an enormous incentive for seniors to make them profitable enterprises.
The Advisory Panel on the Economic Potential of Senior Australians, to which Wayne Swan recently appointed me as Chairman, held its first meeting in Adelaide last week.
Transport is one of a myriad issues at which we are taking a close look, but we are determined to make an asset out of every challenge created by an ageing population so that the nation and its people can prosper as a result.
The major challenge facing the Panel is to get a clear picture of what the world will be like in 2035. We know that it will be a vastly different society to the one that we live in now.
I am fortunate to have two excellent colleagues on the Panel with me — former Deputy Prime Minister, Brian Howe, and Perth Gerantologist, Gill Lewin. We will make progressive reports between now and December to the Ministers to whom we are responsible — Wayne Swan, Jenny Macklin, Nicola Roxon and Mark Butler — all of whom are giving us the resources to do the job.