It is an indisputable fact that pensioners in Australia have been underpaid for more than a century. Nevertheless, little mention of it is being made in the Australian Election of 2016. In truth, there is a defining silence surrounding it for reasons that totally escape me.
Be this as it may, the time has come to correct this huge blot on the humanitarian record of our nation, particularly as a UN Report has stated that 50% of Australian Pensioners live on or below the poverty line. This is intolerable in a prosperous nation.
A fact of history is that when Deakin and Fisher made a bipartisan decision to establish an Age Pension in 1908, it was an historic moment in the history of Australia. But, the determining of the amount was a political decision based solely on what the Government could afford to pay at the time, not what eligible pensioners needed. Still, it was a step forward after the 130 years without a pension since the arrival of the First Fleet.
Since then, every decision to raise or lower the pension has been made largely on political grounds, although the Treasury now has several indices on which they recommend pension calculations. But, all of these are based on related economics, not what a pensioner actually spends.
Even when Wayne Swan and I negotiated the largest pension rise in the history of Australia a few years back, we had to base it on what the Budget could afford and what the politics of the day could accommodate. Thankfully, we at least got recognition that the pension needed significant attention.
So, after 108 years of politics, its time to get the pension right.
In order to get it on the right footing, a study is needed to of what the day by day expenditure of a pensioner actually is, plus the lump sum items of necessity that must be paid during any year. The aim will be to place their pension permanently above the poverty line, but also give Older Australians a justifiable quality of life.
I am pleased to be involved in a partnership of the Longevity Innovation Hub with Australia’s oldest charity, The Benevolent Society, in getting this Pension Adequacy Study under way even though this is difficult while there is an election happening.
Actually, I would love to finish the Study before July 2 and drop the results into the public arena during the last week of the election campaign so as to get the undivided attention of all politicians as they struggle desperately for power. But, this won’t happen as we would have to rush our research and sacrifice accuracy. This would not achieve the long term result that we need.
What we are doing at the moment is conducting a number of focus groups among carefully selected pensioners in city and country to get their personal experiences of surviving life on the Age Pension. We are also studying many thoughtful reports that have been done by responsible people in recent years on what they believe is right or wrong with the Pension after studying the many social and economic pressures of Ageing.
Then, we will share our preliminary findings with people who head significant ageing organisations to get their critical comments before we go into final drafting.
We reckon that we can launch our findings to politicians and bureaucrats by September and then begin a relentless round of negotiations until they are adopted. This will be the greatest task of all, but it is one from which we will not flinch.
I reckon that our chances are good as I expect that we will have a Hung Parliament after 2 July and this brings our best chance to get a consensus. Majority Governments are usually arrogant and have great expertise in making sure that Reports that require hard decisions are put somewhere that cobwebs will cover them quickly.
I expect that if our report recommends that a significant pension rise is needed, we will propose that it be achieved over a number of years of careful Budget planning as gradualism is the cornerstone of sound government.
Let’s get it right once and for all.
It’s time for good people to stand up for economic and social justice for pensioners. We must not put a blind eye to a difficult economic decision that will impact on the life of the nation is so many good ways in years to come.
Yours at Large
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