23 April 2015

Launch of the 'National Prevalence Survey of Age Discrimination in the Workplace' report, Sydney


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Thank you so much Susan. You know, I've known Susan Ryan for nearly 30 years. That's because 30 years ago I was leading student protests against her when she was Education Minister in the Hawke Government. So it has been a long and, I must say, I have a great deal of respect for her during the course of that relationship. The work she does as Age Discrimination Commissioner is hugely impressive as is the work of the Human Rights Commission and congratulations to you, Professor Triggs, and to Brian Schwartz, thank you so much for having us back here at IAG.

The point Susan made about this report being closely linked to the Intergenerational Report is hugely important. Australia is one of the very few countries in the world that every five or six years looks forward 40 years in its endeavour to better understand the challenges that lie ahead. When Peter Costello launched the first Intergenerational Report back in 2002, Facebook hadn't been created, the world was a very different place. Whilst the numbers around Budget pressures and so on change from report to report, the number that always is underestimated is longevity and, over the last few years what we've seen is Australians are living longer than we expected and, thankfully, living healthier than expected and, by the middle of this century, we will have life expectancy of around 100, which is pretty amazing. We will be healthier and we will be wealthier. So that's incredibly positive. You think about the history of humanity going back to the elders of this land, how they could have expected to live to 100 and it is entirely feasible that somewhere in the world today a child has been born that will live to 150. Entirely feasible.

At the Spring Meetings of the IMF and World Bank last week, there was a lot of discussion by Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors about the challenges of change, which is much of the theme of our Intergenerational Report, and for the first time there was a discussion about demographic change. So when you hear the Governor of the Bank of Japan talking about how Japan has to change to cope with its demographic movement. Not only the fact that they have failed for so long to embrace women as equals in the workplace, but also their failure to properly embrace the ageing of their population. Or the fact that China is facing the biggest demographic bubble in the history of humanity directly as a result of the one-child policy. So there is one child to support two ageing parents. Then you look at a country like India, which has a massive growth in the number of young people, and the question is, what sort of lives are they going to have? How are they going to be able to prepare for their future?

The survey that has been released today, as I said to Susan Ryan a little earlier, states the bleeding obvious. I'm sorry that it should be reduced to that, but for some in Australia, age discrimination is too prevalent. For some in Australia, it's not obvious. But, from my perspective, and the perspective of many people here, age discrimination is as reprehensible as racial discrimination, as it is religious discrimination. So we need to somehow marry our own life experiences with the changing demographics of Australia. I am constantly looking for those little vignettes that illustrate the changing nature of Australia.

The other day I was taking my three children to the local public school and every morning I say hello to Merv, the school crossing coordinator, that's the proper title as he told me, school crossing coordinator Merv said.  One of my children aged five said how old are you, Merv? He said I'm 84. My other child said how long have you been working? He said since I was 16. My daughter, who is the smart one, said to me as we are crossing the road, he has been at that school crossing since he was 16? I said no, I think he's had many careers. I haven't found out what they are, but every Easter Merv puts on the bunny ears, every Christmas he wears a Santa hat. The kids love him, he loves them and he loves his job. The wisdom he imparts in that brief discussion with parents and children is a reminder that we never grow old. We never grow old. It's an attitudinal thing in one sense but the question is, do we ever change our attitudes [inaudible]. I think that’s the most empowering thing about embracing people of all ages and ensuring that we do not discriminate against people who are older. We’re all going to get older, hopefully. Hopefully, we’re going to get older. Our lives are going to be very different. Very different.

Technology is completely changing our lives. It’s one of the great disruptors of our generation, new technology. We can use new technology innovatively. So, for example in the United States there is an app for pet carers. This identifies people in your local neighbourhood who are prepared to mind your cat or dog over a weekend. What’s interesting about this, it is empowering people who are no longer active in the workforce to become active in their community. So there are a lot of retirees or people on the pension, who are engaging with the community through this local, very basic app. All of a sudden, they’re earning a bit more income, they’re getting to know their neighbours. It is re-engaging the community in a way that previous intermediaries could never do. Or the driverless car, I’ve talked about it on numerous occasions. You know my parents are in their eighties today. We’re trying to get them to an Anzac Day ceremony - having someone go over to the house, help them into the car - it’s a big event for them. A driverless car is going to completely transform aged care, it is going to completely transform the way we live. Everyone in ten - twenty years’ time will have the capacity to have their own self-service public transport system. It’s going to take the reliance out of ageing. These significant technology developments are transforming our world and we as a Government need to respond to that as well.

One area that we do need to respond is to recognise that the retirement income system has been under different sorts of pressures since the innovation of the Government that Susan was a part of back in 1992, in particular, as setting up a compulsory Superannuation scheme. Why? Because that retirement income system now interacts more directly with the Age Pension system, with the aged care system, with private health insurance, in fact with commercial health insurance, I mean, commercial insurance more generally, or general insurance more generally. When I see advertising for cheaper car insurance for older people, I get a little jealous. I get a little jealous, and I think to myself it’s good that businesses are starting to target the market based on the specifics of that demographic. Government too, needs to change policy to empower that specific demographic. We’ve got a way to go. We’ve got a way to go and you’ve got to help us, you’ve got to identify the barriers for entry to work for older Australians. You’ve got to help us to identify the impediments for them remaining in the workforce. So coming back from Washington two days ago, one of the Qantas flight attendants came up to me and started showing me what impediments were there for her remaining in the job, for accessing her superannuation or contributing to her superannuation. This is a conversation we need to have as a nation and importantly, this survey is going to help us along the way.

So, well done to the Human Rights Commission for their work in this regard. Well done Susan for your indefatigable advocacy for equality of opportunity. That’s what it’s about in my mind, it’s equality of opportunity. Not equality of outcome. We want to have everyone have the same quality of opportunity to work, live with dignity, participate, to engage. After that, it’s their choice whether they want to stay there or not, whether they want to choose a different career or not. The outcome is up to them, but we’ve got to make sure there are no barriers, no barriers. It’s going to be a collective effort. Government can’t do it standing on a pedestal in Canberra. No single business can do it. We all collectively need to work together to remove the barriers to a successful long and healthy life. So thank you very much, well done again, and I appreciate very much all of you coming along to the launch of this important report.