As we face an ageing tsunami, Treasurer Joe Hockey has sacked the Advisory Panel on Positive Ageing (and me as its chairman), declaring it to be irrelevant without stating why this is so. Shortly before that, Prime Minister Tony Abbott decided not to have a minister for ageing, downgrading the importance of millions of seniors in the life of the nation.
The sole reason for the dismissal of the panel, as conveyed to me privately by Coalition MPs, is that it was established by former treasurer Wayne Swan and it has been decided that every vestige of Swan’s term as treasurer must be obliterated. Such is the waste that politics represents in our national life.
Be this as it may, the facts of life are that by 2040 there will be 55,000 Australians who are over 100, and 5000 of them will be 110. The largest segment of our population will be those between 85 and 100. More immediately, the number of 65-year-olds will double within the next decade.
The panel had published a report on the economic potential of senior Australians, showing that ageing can be turned into an economic and social asset if some visionary policies are progressively implemented. Swan accepted our recommendations and asked us to prepare a blueprint on ageing fleshing out the policy details of what must be done and present it to Treasury by 2014. We had a draft prepared ready for consultation with community leaders across the nation. It will now be put through the shredder.
The major issues contained in the blueprint covered such vital matters as mature age employment and training, retirement incomes, age-friendly housing, preventative health, technology for seniors, lifelong learning, recreation, volunteering, philanthropy, insurance etc. It is a pity that we have been banished and can’t finish a job that will lead to the saving of billions in budget costs and the creation of new taxable revenue.
An equal tragedy is that five vital items we spent many months negotiating for inclusion in the 2013 budget have also been cancelled. They covered important matters such as the pension assets test, housing design, technology training, wound management and the establishment of the Andrew Fisher Policy Institute. It all represents an act of irresponsible vandalism.
The tragedy is that Hockey thinks that ageing is all about nursing homes and has no appreciation of the fact that the ageing tsunami will hit the world with greater economic force than the GFC of 2008. Australia will be unprepared for it.
May I conclude by saying that the seniors of Australia stand ready to make a growing and positive contribution to the future of Australia. We want age discrimination to disappear so we can show that we are loyal and reliable workers with lots of wisdom and experience who can make a significant enhancement to the productivity of the nation. I want also to take this opportunity to thank the very able members of my panel who made an enormous contribution and do not deserve the humiliation that has been heaped upon them: Brian Howe, Susan Ryan, Gill Lewin and Neville Roach.