My launch speech to the National Press Club in Canberra
(Complete with links to your download copy of the Blueprint)
People are growing older and are doing so at a far greater rate than ever before in the history of the world. All nations now face a considerable social and economic revolution as a result, and Australia cannot hope to be an exception, as most of us can confidently expect a lifespan of at least 90 years, with many thousands about to achieve their century.
In ages past, war and disease prevented most people from reaching old age, but, thankfully, this is not likely to happen on a massive scale ever again.
If we act now, we can ensure that we will turn ageing into a significant social and economic asset, not a liability, and the Blueprint for an Ageing Australia that we present to the nation today strives to do exactly this.
Let me briefly outline the key recommendations.
PRIME MINISTERIAL LEADERSHIP
The challenge of ageing is so great that the enormous task of turning it into a powerhouse for the nation must be the responsibility of no less a leader than the Prime Minister.
There must be a Minister for Ageing within his office who has cabinet status and implements the PM’s ageing policies, co-ordinating action across all departments, as well as with State and Local Governments, community institutions, First Australians and culturally and linguistically diverse communities.
Older Australians are a rapidly growing economic force in the marketplace, but they are largely ignored by providers of goods and services who fail to observe that they have special needs that can be a huge source of sales income for them. One day soon, the ageing market will be THE market. By meeting their needs in innovative ways, the economy will be transformed.
Of special note is the opportunity to export ageing services to the world. Every nation has a huge ageing problem and few are currently equipped to face it. Australia has the expertise to provide the services and products that will take them through this demographic crisis. We also have the capital to invest in all the social infrastructure they will need.
Austrade must lead the campaign, as the very considerable export income we can earn from this will more than cover the losses we are sustaining as the result of the end of the mining boom and the collapse of the car industry.
Another huge opportunity is to create a business environment in which Seniors can become entrepreneurs if they plan to do so well before they reach the traditional retirement age. They have a unique scope to take-up totally new business and professional endeavours, for which they can acquire new skills to create a second career.
To make sure that this happens, we will initiate steps to establish a Senior Entrepreneurs Institute to foster this initiative and provide practical assistance to those who take it up, including help in finding investors. The work of this Institute has the potential to greatly enhance the economy, and significantly expand the small business sector, as well as providing a challenging lifestyle for thousands of senior entrepreneurs who will bring enormous wisdom and vision to their new projects.
MATURE AGE EMPLOYMENT
Discrimination against Older Workers who want to remain in, or re-enter, the workforce is rampant, and is a blot on the traditional Australian ethic of giving everyone a fair go. As the result of this archaic attitude, Australia loses billions of dollars in productivity every year, while it adds unnecessary billions to welfare rolls. It seems incredible to say it, but it is a fact that thousands of employers in Australia actually think that when someone reaches 65, and at precisely midnight on this very day, something clicks over in an employee’s brain and that person instantly becomes geriatric.
Sadly, all three levels of government are even worse offenders in this area of discrimination than corporate Australia. A social revolution to remove this primitive outlook is long overdue.
Worst of all are State Governments who discriminate enormously by denying Work Cover to senior employees, as they are unfairly deemed to be great risks. They must take immediate action to change this, as it is the greatest deterrent to the successful expansion of Mature Age Employment, especially as private insurers of senior workers charge premiums which are unjustifiably exorbitant.
Despite these roadblocks, the Blueprint particularly recommends expanding investment in programs of skills training to enable older workers to keep up to date in a rapidly and constantly changing world.
Despite the economic gloom fostered by too many politicians, Australians have never been wealthier and there is a particularly stable middleclass, as well as an ever-expanding group of the wealthy.
We now have the potential to involve thousands of Senior Australians in establishing Charitable Trusts and Foundations, which will work for Australia long after they have departed and be a powerhouse for the long-term funding of education, science, health, homelessness, etc. Those who have financial means that are not as great as others can participate in a similar manner by opening personal accounts within community foundations who will competently manage their philanthropy in the years ahead.
We have made specific recommendations about this, and will establish a Golden Givers Foundation to promote and manage this positive enhancement of community life with the active co-operation of Australia’s banks.
Above all, we advocate a strong dose of encouragement for the many thousands of volunteers who work for our nation’s charities — most of whom are Seniors. They cannot afford the heavy premiums that insurance companies charge them for protection against legal actions that stem from accidents. Governments must protect and foster them through adequate legislation.
They must also be protected from the excessive and unreasonable health and safety regulations that stop them from actively helping the needy in basic ways.
Similarly, there are some trade unions that complain that volunteers are doing honorary jobs that a paid employee should undertake. They need an injection of humanity into their way of thinking.
The entire spirit of volunteerism is at stake unless governments act with urgency.
Brian Howe will outline to you in detail our recommendations on age-friendly housing, of which there is an enormous shortage, particularly in the rental market.
He will comment on the environment in which Seniors aspire to live, and the huge investment that will be needed to encourage us to leave our cars at home and use public transport for our own comfort and safety, as well as for the benefit of the community as a whole.
These are issues that must be faced with vigour, knowing that positive action on them will create many new jobs.
This is the most contentious issue of them all. It is the one that creates the most public debate and about which there is the greatest uncertainty in the minds of millions of retirees.
Many reports on retirement incomes and outcomes have been undertaken and more are currently underway.
In particular, let me recommend that you read the excellent report on this subject published two weeks ago by Per Capita researcher, Emily Millane, who is here today.
It faces many of the crucial issues that governments, now and in the future, must determine with political bravery. These challenges are unavoidable and will not go away. They relate to many crucial matters, some of which are retirement and access ages for pensions and superannuation, a fair calculation of pensions and planning to ensure Superannuation will last until people reach 90 years of age, together with how they may have to be taxed to avoid excessive tax impositions on our grandchildren.
A totally new retirement incomes policy is needed right now and, once legislated, must be left alone, as constant tinkering with it creates enormous and unnecessary tension in the lives of Seniors. We will not reach a satisfactory situation with either pensions or superannuation until all current cut-and-paste legislation is put through the shredder — an event that should have happened a decade ago.
The ageing of the population will reach its peak around 2050. But, none of us can accurately envisage where technology will take us to by then. Nevertheless, we can be certain that it will be a vastly different world to that of today, and we must prepare for it as from today.
Most Seniors are not computer literate or skilled, so we have recommended a considerable investment in a national campaign to enable most of us to stay in touch with the world and prosper as the result, but education in technology must go on for decades or we will be left behind.
My fellow panel member, Neville Roach, who has spent a lifetime in technology, has done excellent work in writing this section of the Blueprint. I am particularly impressed with the powerful comments he has made on Telehealth, as this will be an indispensable factor in improving health services and reducing their costs, provided that ample funds are allocated now for its research, development and application.
Gill Lewin will cover the vital subject of Wellbeing.
A healthy nation will enjoy a happier old age. It will also ensure that the huge health costs of ageing will reduce dramatically. But, it is pointless to invest only in the wellbeing of the Seniors of today. It must commence 50 years earlier than that, and will require all medical professionals having a greater knowledge of gerontology for any programme of wellbeing to be effective.
Especially important will be a national campaign to reduce the prevalence of ageism, which detracts from a mature society.
THE NEXT STEPS
The hard work now begins.
My Panel asks all political parties operating at Federal, State and Local Government levels to give a considered response to this Blueprint, and to invite us to work with them to ensure that it all happens as soon as possible.
But, they will need the support of the business and financial communities, as well as the not-for-profit institutions and the media, if dynamic progress is to be made throughout society in making ageing a positive, not a negative.
We intend to stay with this task for the long haul. We hope that you will too.
THE BEST YEARS
In October, I will reach the numerical age of 83, and I invite you all to give serious consideration to shouting me a wee dram of rare single malt whisky from deep in the highlands of Scotland, one that is at least 25 years old.
On that day, I will once more acknowledge that I have not yet reached my prime.
I joke not.
I firmly believe that I still have the best years of my life ahead of me, as is the case with many thousands of Aussies in their Eighties.
All we ask is that we are given the opportunity to compete with younger Aussies on a level playing field and be given a fair go at proving that we have the wisdom, vision, loyalty and reliability to make a valuable contribution to the life and future of the nation through vibrant inter-generational partnerships.
I invite you to meet me here at the Press Club ten years from now to review what progress we have made in implementing our Blueprint for an Ageing Australia. I have no doubt that I will be here. You all look young and healthy enough to have a reasonable chance of making it here that day also.
As the legendary American singer, Al Jolson, once responded when someone suggested he was getting old and should retire: “You ain’t seen nuthin’ yet.”
May I sign-off by expressing my thanks to Per Capita, especially its team of David Hetherington, Joshua Funder, Emily Millane and Dennis Glover, for their initiative in suggesting to me that we finish this Blueprint as a private sector project, for their sterling work in making it all happen and for their very professional drafting of this report.
My special thanks also to National Seniors Australia for joining the partnership and making available the services of their Productive Ageing Centre for detailed research. The contribution of Michael O’Neill, Sarah Saunders, David Carvosso and Tim Adair has been splendid.
Similarly, the prestigious involvement of National Australia Bank has been wholehearted. They are our major financial contributors, as well as providers of valued economic and commercial data. I particularly acknowledge the talented contribution to the Blueprint by Paula Benson and Helen Brady.
Generous words of thanks are due also to Ashursts as the generous providers of services and facilities across Australia, particularly the contribution of Tony Denholder.
May I make particular mention of the valued assistance of my friend, Professor Graeme Hugo, of the University of Adelaide. I regard him as Australia’s finest demographer.
Thanks also to the many contributors of donations from every part of the nation, as well as the professional input given to us by all those who attended the consultations that we held in every State.
Finally, it has been a great privilege for me to work with my original Panel from our days in Treasury — Brian Howe, Gill Lewin and Neville Roach — as well as a former Panel member, Susan Ryan, of the Human Rights Commission. I especially want to thank Gill for arranging a generous financial contribution from Silver Chain in Western Australia.
Especially, may I thank Wayne Swan and Mark Butler for their decision to commence work on this Blueprint three years ago, and for their continued commitment to the project both in and out of government. They are great Australians.
Yours at large
You can view a full pdf version of the Blueprint for an Ageing Australia document here.
You can download the document here