Susan Ryan speaks out…

Q. What is age discrimination?

Excluding people simply on the basis of age, not merit or capacity, which leads to negative treatment.

Q. Why should people care about such discrimination?

Firstly, on the basis of human rights. Our laws are based on everyone being entitled to equal and fair treatment. Then there are more practical reasons; when discrimination on the basis of age occurs, productivity is lost. There is a cost to the economy. Supporting negative stereotypes which have no basis also results in a cost to individuals trying to build up super/retirement savings. Workplace – interview/age

The importance of the area of age discrimination has grown since the Act came in, in 2004. It’s not just about numbers. Productive ageing is a topic that needs to be taken up.

If we consider that people in their 50s are too old it becomes self-defeating for the community, the economy and individuals.

Gross generalisations based upon age are completely wrong in many cases – and older workers need the opportunity to learn. Age is no barrier to learning new skills.  A large proportion of ageism is simply based upon lazy prejudices.

Q. What can an individual do if they feel they have suffered discrimination?

First they need to establish from the recruiter why they did not make the grade. Sometimes the recruiter will tell; sometimes they won’t. If the employee has good cause to believe there was age discrimination, then they need to hit the complaints button. Phone in or email description of why it seems to be discrimination under the Act. There can be a conciliation process. This process is both free and confidential. Of course if an electronic CV robot has knocked you out, you may never know because it is quite tricky to prove.

Q. How can they prove ageism?

The specifics of the Age Discrimination Act do give some rights to complain about/seek redress. Have you been treated differently?

Q. What do you hope to bring to this role which hasn’t been there before?

I left Parliament in 1988, but have remained close to the parliamentary process and still have good relations with policy makers within government.

I will give this role my full-time dedication, coupled with my experience in Parliament, including the long years working against prejudice, and more recent years in superannuation

Q. You stated on ABC Radio National on 1 August that you had not personally suffered form Age Discrimination. Is it possible/difficult to empathise/understand if this is the case?

I hope I am sympathetic. Whilst I am not aware of age discrimination against me, I may have experienced it. Are there two Australias? Probably, for those who are sought in the workplace, the problem is not as great. Others may be successful, but less high profile and it may be they suffer from discrimination.

Q. How much funding is there to support your role – i.e. how many staff/resources to handle complaints?

We have an additional $4 million per year on top of the Human Rights Commission budget so I believe that the commission is well-resourced. It is a statutory body funded entirely by the Commonwealth Government. If it requires more, it can ask. I am not yet sure of the number of staff in the complaints department.

Q. How much of your time will you actually have to deal with people on a day-to-day basis versus the ambassadorial role?

Both are important. I will be ‘out there’ at forums, conferences, fronting media as much as I can. But I also want to learn but what’s happened so far/ what we really know/ and apply our best efforts.

I have committed to five years as Age Commissioner. Beyond legislation there are many ways to change employers/recruiters. I strongly believe I will have time to do something meaningful.

For example, in the case of women, the Sex Discrimination Act of 1984 took 27 years until it was passed. Beforehand it was considered okay to say ‘we don’t like women, no married women, no pregnant women wanted’. No employer would say that now. Most women are very aware of the law.

Such cultural change takes a long time. We do have a massive issue of age discrimination and it’s costing the country, community, individuals. Massive boost retirement age

Q. What are the three or four key issues which you see facing older Australians who are considering a transition to retirement?

I’d like to say to those approaching this stage, don’t be scared of it – it’s your money, your life savings, your future life. Have a close look at what you have in super and familiarise yourself with your savings. If want to transition you will need a good financial adviser to take you through the detail as it is very complicated, particularly how much you will need and possible tax benefits. If don’t have enough, consider staying in the workforce as long as you can. Try to find an advisor by contacting your super fund and see if you can locate an independent advisor with whom you can form a partnership; someone who is reliable and works on a fee for service Basis.

Q. Would you support the removal of age restrictions on compulsory super?

I am interested in looking at this – it is part of another raft of changes being prepared as the Government is very keen to keep people in the workforce.

Because of previous discrimination against women, you simply can’t make up for a lifetime of keeping them out of the superannuation system.

Q. Is it discriminating for those age over 50, with more than $500,000 super balance, to be unable to receive tax incentives when contributing to their super, as proposed by the government to take effect next year?

Also the government co contribution which ceases at 71?

This is already being discussed by ASFA and AIST – that’s what they do. There was some relief on caps during the GFC – maybe that needs to be reconsidered.

We also need more education about super. Most people, when they buy a house, are pretty financially literate.

Super has overtaken the family home as our number one asset. It deserves at least the same degree of attention, if not more.

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