What strategies will be needed to help the nation foot our COVID-19 bill?

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While much of Australia is beginning to enjoy the fruits of hard time served indoors during COVID-19 lockdown, with some venues reopening and travel restrictions starting to lift, it may be time to address the elephant in the room, says a University of New South Wales report.   

That elephant? Who will foot the coronavirus stimulus bill?

Health measures have come at a huge economic cost, with the lockdown estimated to have cost about $1.4 billion a week. Millions are out of work and the federal government will end up spending about $213 billion in direct spending; state spending will be around $13 billion. Money borrowed from the Reserve Bank could exceed $105 billion.

Some commentators estimate the impact of reduced revenue in future years to $1 trillion.

Federal treasurer Josh Frydenberg rightly stated that a federal budget once expected to deliver a surplus for the first time in years will now be the “largest-ever deficit when a revised budget is released in October.”

It will take all hands on deck to repay this debt.

“The question is how we as a nation will pay the bill and over what time period,” says the UNSW report.

“And even though we aren’t out of hibernation yet, the debate has already started about whether we can grow our way back. This includes what tax incentives are needed to help stimulate growth and cushion businesses and workers through the transition and/or what belt-tightening and tax-raising strategies will need to be implemented.”

There have already been calls directed at retirees and baby boomers to fork out more than other generations.

“This is partially arguing intergenerational fairness – the high cost of protecting seniors as our most vulnerable group – and also a pragmatic approach that they are likely to have more capacity to pay, having accumulated assets over time,” said UNSW Business School professor of practice Jennie Granger.

“Of course, not all seniors are wealthy and even those who have been self-funding their retirements have had their investments and incomes significantly battered by low interest rates and the bear share market.”

She suggests more tax revenue could be taken from investors to help repay government debts – by putting a limit on franking credits, taxing superannuation withdrawals, limiting the concessional tax rate on super earnings, limiting capital gains tax exemption on their homes and limiting negative gearing.

Prof. Grainger also suggests broadening the tax base and reforms to GST and state taxes as a means of shoring up the economy.

Her colleague, Dr Rodney Brown, suggested three quick fixes to stimulate growth.

The first would be unwinding the legislated personal income tax cuts worth $158 billion.  “This reduces forward expenditure, so we are not compounding debt. This is attractive because it is less painful to withdraw something we never had,” said Dr Brown.

The second was introducing a temporary levy, similar to the one introduced for three years after the Global Financial Crisis. This added two per cent onto personal taxable income over $180,000, affecting 400,000 Australians and raising more than $3 billion.

“A corporate form of this could be a temporary ‘super profits tax’ on the most profitable companies,” he said.

The third is cancelling the super guarantee charge rate rise, which Dr Brown says “doesn’t repair the budget, [but] it is a cost to business. It may be an attractive option for the government to defer or cancel this rate rise. If future employee costs for businesses don’t increase, that may be an incentive for businesses to hire additional employees”.

Perhaps retirees have seemingly been asked to shoulder the economic burden of COVID-19 because over 50s make up 27 per cent of the population but hold 50 per cent of the nation’s private wealth and 46 per cent of its disposable income.

However, the Alliance for a Fairer Retirement System came to older Australians’ defence over the weekend with an open letter to the Morrison government.

“We are beginning to see incessant lobbying from retiree groups demanding greater taxpayer support in the wake of COVID-19,” reads the letter published by Fairfax.

“Older Australians say the retirement system is in crisis and leaving them financially vulnerable, forcing them to call on the Morrison government to consider changes in areas such as the Age Pension, deeming rates and access to the Commonwealth Seniors Health Card.

“The Alliance for a Fairer Retirement System, representing millions of retirees and older investors, has written to key finance and welfare ministers urging reforms including to measures previously introduced to take pressure off the federal budget…

“Retirees are facing a string of inter-related hits to their finances. Company dividends are being slashed… Falling interest rates… Income from rental properties have also collapsed… The alliance said it all meant many retired Australians’ incomes were being stripped away by the impact of the coronavirus and the situation ‘could extend for years’.

“…the alliance wants the government to… [implement] another cut in the deeming rate.

“It also wants an automatic revaluation of assets used by Centrelink to determine the pension accessibility for retirees…

“The alliance has also called for the government to rethink the taper rate changes it introduced in 2017 that helped save billions in pension payments. The alliance says those changes now mean that couples who may have almost $900,000 in assets are up to $1000 a month worse off in income compared to a couple with $450,000 in assets…

“It wants all retirees to have access to the [Commonwealth Seniors Health] card and for the government to promote its availability.”

The intergenerational war over who’ll foot the bill is in full swing, even though we still haven’t recovered from the crisis. In fact, we’re still not even aware of what the final cost may be.

“The federal government has already racked up hundreds of billions of dollars of debt to steer the economy through COVID-19, which will need to be repaid by younger generations,” writes Leith Van Onselen for MacroBusiness. “Younger Australians have also been hardest hit by job losses.

“Now retiree groups want to throw billions more onto the debt burden of younger generations so that they can enjoy their retirements in undiminished comfort.

“Seriously though, the burden of COVID-19 must be shared throughout the community, not hoisted on younger Australians shoulders. Retirees must also bear some of the pain.”

Is repaying the debt even an issue for you? Should all generations band together to help our nation through these unprecedented times? How do you feel about this?

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Written by Leon Della Bosca

Leon Della Bosca is a voracious reader who loves words. You'll often find him spending time in galleries, writing, designing, painting, drawing, or photographing and documenting street art. He has a publishing and graphic design background and loves movies and music, but then, who doesn’t?

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160 Comments

Total Comments: 160
  1. 0
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    It is an issue for us o.a.p.s, we will be seen as a target where as the coalitions mates will be looking forward to tax cuts.

    Neil.

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      Yep, of course, rotten to the core!

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      Yes $11000 extra income a year for wealthy income earners. And yet not a mention here of cancelling the tax cuts. Haha.

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      They have to cancel future tax cuts and break this ridiculous and childish vote-buying strategy.

      Do we need rich people getting richer or essential services for everyone (including rich people)? I call government services essential because they ARE essential for a decent society. Look at the hell hole the USA has turned into! Please don’t let Australia fall into that type of fetid hole.

  2. 0
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    As a baby boomer I see Gen Z to pay – they thought it a great ‘joke” to run the #boomerremover. If they thought the pandemic was such a joke, OK they can pay

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      I agree 100%. The younger generations will have much more opportunity to rebuild their super funds than us o.a.p’s. As it is, most of us will never see our funds get back to where they were at the beginning of the COVID19 pandemic.

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      Don’t blame and punish their whole generation for the few knobheads’ stupid behaviour. Every generation has a cross-section of knobheads in it, including ours.

      Generation wars never fixed anything. All they serve to do is divide the people so those who benefit (including our political leaders) don’t have to even address the real issues. Wake up!

      If you think blame games work then you must consider that people of the future should be punishing us for the crap environment we’ve left for them.
      Of course it’s not fair because some of us have tried hard to fix the environment for people of the future.

  3. 0
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    It would be a very brave government to reintroduce personal income tax increases for any group, let alone retirees. But LNP governments have never been known for either commonsense or fairness, just promotion of the increasing divide between the wealthy and the poor. Hope for the best, but expect the worst, seems to be the best attitude for current retirees to hold at the moment.

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      The LNP are not known for common sense or fairness, but heaven help us all if Labor gains power during or after the end of the pandemic. They wanted to wipe out self-funded retirees. They want to increase the super guarantee so that more billions flow into the pockets of high income earners and lower income earners and struggling small business is screwed. And while they are stuffing the economy, they are also destroying society with their stupid gender rubbish and reverse racism. And they are allied with the idiot Greens who are now proposing to defund the police force, so goodbye law and order and protection of person and property. What a mess!

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      And you can add free university education to the that list. The thoughts of pm Gough Whitlam still exist within the Labor party branch stackers.

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    No combination will be popular across all generations..and while in principle I don’t support taxing the so called rich to support the so called poor, maybe a special tax levy ,means tested should be in the mix.( as per the Ansett levey)
    The majority of retirees have not benefited from Gov. assistance.due to CV19. so leave them alone this time.
    Whatever happens it will be long and painful

  5. 0
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    Might be time to Set Minimum Tax Rate to be Collected off the Going Tax Rates.
    There can’t be a Tax Receipt below a “%” set of Rate as is the case now some can be zero or very close to.
    The combining of incomes for the purpose of reducing tax with loss making investment/business to cover loans and other expenses.

  6. 0
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    Does the UNSW Business School professor of practice Jennie Granger live in the real world or is this just another hypothesis with no basis in reality?

    It’s easy to make claims about Baby Boomers and retirees having assets which, although true in a lot of cases, doesn’t address the reason that those assets have been accumulated. Most of those assets were purchased with after tax income and, in some cases, a lot of luxuries were foregone to pay for the family home. The percentage increase in real estate over the past few decades has been constant and higher than previous decades for a number of reasons, some of which are because of government policies. Baby Boomers and retirees have paid their way in the past, are paying their way now and should not be asked to pay any more than any other tax group.

    It’s OK to claim that “younger” Australians will be left to carry the burden when things get back to normal but this is misleading. Personal tax is not calculated by age but by income received after allowable deductions. Interestingly, about 50% of tax is paid by about 10% of the highest income earners. It’s drawing emotion into the argument when suggesting that it’s the “younger” Australians who will carry the burden.

    The stimulus packages have been targetted to try and maintain the economy in the short term as well as keeping the workforce together for when the COVID-19 pandemic has passed. History tells us that employment is created by the private sector and I agree with Dr Rodney Brown that deferring the compulsory super increase may assist with businesses keeping costs lower which may lead to more employment. Not only is that helpful for the dignity of work but it has a twofold effect on the economy: less outgoings for jobseeker payments and increased income from personal taxation.

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      Hi Horace, sorry I haven’t got around to you yet, – was annoyed with you in another post claiming the Brown Coal electric power stations in the Latrobe had environmental filters, – I have been there, that was a bit naughty of you, – driving into the valley looks like a Nuclear explosion mushroom cloud, tut, tut.

      However, some correction about the difference between History, and some silly theory, – it is always good to keep ideas correct before you make decisions based on them.
      Let’s look at Australia, Private Industry did not send the convicts, etc. to found Australia, sure Private sector persons came riding along too and carved out huge swathes of country for themselves, and were certainly involved in lots of Aboriginal slaughter, so Private sector People of bloodthirsty nature were certainly there, filling their pockets at every corruptible corner, but in no way did they create genuine employment, really they held the colony back.

      Leaping forward to America when it became a world power before and after WW2, it’s Huge advance was funded purely by the Govt following the Keynesian economic idea at that time, building dams, roads, railways and infrastructure of all kinds later replaced by Economic Rationalism as Keynesianism, whilst buiding the nation and it’s people, did not lend itself to total gobble gobble by the rich, who have since become the Super rich and now Gobble Gobble Gobble.

      To the degree that individuals create a business through hard work and new ideas or a new invention, those Private people do an enormous amount of stimulus of employment and economic activity, but the Buying out/ taking over of those small businesses by huge corporations almost always leads to serious retrenchments and disposal of hard working committed personel and displacement by the ruthlessly greedy.

      – Small buiness creates the economy, big business sucks it dry and contributes the minimum, so that part of Private sector, – the part that usually pays no Tax, – the parasite part, contributes very little, if not takes more than it gives.

      Now we have had many years of the vampire Economic Rationalism, and it is causing a world economy having very shaky foundations, it is time to drive the Stake through that vampires heart and look to create a more sensible and equitable society within which All are Cherished and All Contribute, and the Private sector is lauded for it’s contribution in regards to individual striving but not allowed to go beyond that to the mega greed disease.

      BTW I can’t see much difference between society costs keeping the economy alive by Jobseeker, etc. and individuals earning money yet doing nothing except the jobseekers actually do necessary work but the fat rich rent seekers do nothing.
      And that is just observation, – nothing to do with socialism or any other ism.

      Cheers Horace,
      Geoff

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      UNSW Business School professor? These are the guys who failed to predict the collapse of the Australian Automotive Manufacturing Industry, as I recollect in 1987 during my Commerce studies at UNSW….buggers were annoyed when I wrote in one exam that lowering tariffs, allowing imported cars to flood our small market would be very detrimental to our motor vehicle manufacturing industry…But, of course they knew better …eh?

      As we paid through our nose when we were younger without finger pointing at OAP’s of our era…so will the future generations. Why should they have it easier than us and those before us?

    • 0
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      Isn’t it a pity the Federal and State Governments sold all the income producing assets we paid high taxes to build for the future.

      To top it off they’ve contracted perfectly good public services into privateer hands at huge costs to the Nation.

      Now they want what assets we have left to live off.

      Tell ’em they’re dreaming!

    • 0
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      I really enjoyed reading your post, Lookfar Geoff. I’ve never read such a succinct dissection of our economy and the positive, democratic role of small businesses and the destructive, undemocratic role of multinationals.

      It makes it apparent that very large corporations are the scourge of the world. Their unrestricted ravaging of communities and whole countries can’t ever be voted away, whether in western democracies or megacorps like China.

      So it leaves these questions:
      – Is democracy even possible when corporations are legally allowed to “donate” to political parties?
      – What role can citizens effectively and legally play to influence governance?

      And yes, Rae, selling the golden goose of public utilities to privateers, which had been paid for by working families paying their taxes year after year, has had tragic consequences for those very taxpayers. Politicians sold their souls but the people have to pay the bills.

  7. 0
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    Increase the GST to 15% everyone pays that way

    • 0
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      Pensioners cannot afford to pay another 5% unless they are exempted from rent and utilities costs.

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      I prefer that first step is to make it flat across the board with no exemptions, then adjust the welfare payments for expected increase in GST so recipients not worse off, and only then look at increasing the rate for more revenue

    • 0
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      Yeah Sam every billionaire pays the same as every Pensioner. GST is a Regressive Tax

    • 0
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      Indirect taxes are inherently unfair and cause increased poverty. Increasing GST would mean huge increases in hardship for those who are battling now. And increasing pensions would be patently unfair as it would leave the already struggling self-funded retirees with a massive increased living cost and no help to cover it. It would likely be the last straw for hundreds of thousands of SFRs, who would just give up and put their hands out for a pension.

      Exempting pensioners from rent and utility costs would be patently unfair to homeowner pensioners, who are already – in many cases – worse off than their pensioner counterparts.

      What we need to do is stop ‘boxing’ people and making invalid assumptions about this group vs that group, and just give EVERYONE a guaranteed basic income, then increase income taxes at the top end. It’s not hard. But while we continue to indulge this group and deprive that group, there will be major problems.

      Why should welfare groups get more, Farside, when low paid workers and struggling SFRs will be hard hit and get nothing? We have to get rid of this ‘welfare’ mentality and start rewarding those who strive, until they reach the point of achieving very healthy incomes – at which point a sensible system of progressive income tax should cut in to ensure those who earn most, pay most.

    • 0
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      Tood, there is NO GST ON RESIDENTIAL RENTAL PAYMENTS, but Commercial rents do attract GST. The income from renting a residential property is included in the taxable income of the owner of the property. The GST you pay on the upkeep of the home is also not claimable.

      As for GST on fresh food, check out this url: https://www.ato.gov.au/print-publications/gst-and-food/?anchor=GSTfreefood#GSTfreefood

      GST on other food: https://www.ato.gov.au/print-publications/gst-and-food/?page=5#Taxable_food

      So, if you’re thinking of purchasing chocolate milk from the supermarket, you’ll have to pay GST on it, but if you purchase fresh milk and Akta Vite, Milo, etc, you’ll not pay GST on the milk. If you’re purchasing sparkling mineral water, then expect to pay GST, whereas bottled still water doesn’t attract GST.

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      Youngagain, no issues with raising the tax free threshold so low incomes and all your pov SFRs are also compensated for loss of GST exemptions, but that was not what the OP wrote about. I would rather give the SFRs back the 2017 taper changes but I am more concerned with those finding themselves on struggle street because they are rather than those who go there by choice.

      I don’t disagree with any movement to sensible progressive taxation or a living wage but I see little point in UBI to those who do not need it.

    • 0
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      Farside, how out of touch can you be? Earning enough to pay tax would be a dream for vast numbers of SFRs, so raising the tax free threshold won’t help them one bit. Nor, obviously, will it help low income earners.

      Even giving back the 2017 taper rate changes won’t help a lot of struggling SFRs, with investment returns at an all-time low and poor prospects for any improvement.

      The point of a UBI is that it doesn’t rely on a bunch of bigoted, ill-informed power-crazed bureaucrats, politicians or advisers to presume to decide who needs what. The flaw in all means tested system is that nobody can ever assess someone else’s need accurately, so ultimately the system is grossly unfair, able to be manipulated readily, and removes freedom of spending choice. A UBI and a sensible tax system removes the unfairness and makes the whole system far more efficient and affordable to administer.

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      out of touch? Youngagain, well certainly not playing in the same paddock as you, so feel free to whinge about the woes that have befallen SFRs and their choices until UBI comes in. Hopefully you come around to understanding UBI is not happening any time soon, especially while the broad consensus is it could actually increase poverty and damage the economy.

      FYI, there are many SFRs that understood we have been moving to a low interest rate environment for the past decade and adjusted their plans accordingly. Like you they might not like the low returns on bank deposits but you don’t hear them whining over it and expecting government to bail them out while there are higher priorities.

    • 0
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      Any SFR who isn’t very worried by their low income and threats of higher GST or loss of franking credits etc. is VERY RICH, Farside. The vast majority are deeply concerned, supporting the National Seniors’ campaign for a UBI or at least a major change to means testing, and acknowledging a hideously unfair system. It’s not about ‘understanding’ anything. It’s about not having choices. You can understand everything, but when there are no other reasonable options, understanding Is pointless. And I don’t think ANYONE is asking the government to ‘bail them out while there are higher priorities’. SFRs merely want a fair deal, and a fair deal is highly affordable if the govt. stopped giving the richest 1% over $300,000 per person in tax concessions to build their retirement war chest. There are billions going to the richest 20% in grossly unfair superannuation tax concessions and these could easily be redirected to struggling retirees who have never had the benefit of concessions like that and are now not getting a fair go.

    • 0
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      Besides, Farside, this discussion began with a proposal to raise GST. My comment stands. It would be patently unfair to SFRs and your dumb comment that they could raise the tax threshold would be useless to those most severely hurt. Try sticking to the point and acknowledging FACT instead of always trying to score points by changing the topic.

    • 0
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      Isn’t the current tax threshold at $18,000 pa? But the problem with our whole economy is that the very rich can make that starting point irrelevant – it’s just for the workers who pay tax all their working lives.

      A UBI would be fine but only if all the people who accessed it ACTUALLY paid tax, but we all know the mega-rich have ways to make ANY income disappear so they NEVER pay tax. It’s always being “re-invested” into their many money-making assets/schemes. EVERYTHING becomes tax-deductible for even little moguls.

      And then there’s the Franking Credit rebates for those who don’t even pay tax. THIS is where the means-testing should be applied, so mega-rich can’t put their hands out, yet again (they’ve already been paid dividends, for heaven’s sake!).

    • 0
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      And not to mention the so called “charities” the rich set up like Bill Gates.

  8. 0
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    Mr Morrison has stated over and over that the government intends to grow productivity to get us out of this debt.
    You can vote Labor and rest assured we all will be taxed until the cows come home.
    So instead of attacking men, women, age, wealth, country etc etc. Follow Plan A and we will get out of this with our lives and our children’s future economic security.

    • 0
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      Morrison is wrong. He needs to go and have a chat with his people and have them explain to him how the economy actually works and the life cycle of a dollar. There is no hurry to reduce debt so long as there remains a need to build infrastructure for a growing population and the debt is manageable. Passing on paper debts/assets imposes no net benefit or burden from generation to generation.

    • 0
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      Rosret, Usage by Politicians of the word productivity should be accompanied by a long series of questions to that Politician whilst attached to a very sensitive Lie detector, particularly when that politician tells you that not to support him will be attacking men, women, age, wealth, country etc etc. – Beware of Politicans seeking to cloud your judgement by invoking fear and trembling, you don’t even need a lie detector to spot those liars.
      It does not surprise me that Morrison has used that technique on you, – he has a sales background after all, but if you believe his lies then that is a problem not only for you but for the rest of us when you vote, – particularly as you do not seem to be taking appropriate care, and your name is not Daniel.

    • 0
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      Exactly so Farside. It is a worry that UNSW professors don’t understand MMT.

      The Government has borrowed made up money from itself and will in time pay itself back. It has to. They all have to. Apart from the Superannuation funds forced to buy bonds as a portion of the prescribed portfolio no rational person would buy bonds at current yields.

      The interest is just too low.

      Where has all the money gone that has poured into State and Federal Treasuries for years now from sales of our assets?

    • 0
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      Rae, I’m not sure they even need to understand MMT, tho would not hurt for them to at least get a grounding in the basics. It was enough during the health crisis to heed the advice from informed experts, so why not with an economics crisis. I suspect this is why they continue to chatter about about managing the budget and bang on about debt and deficit instead of managing an economy. They are struggling to even understand Keynesian let alone think it so locked in they are to the monetarist and neocon ideologies.

    • 0
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      And we all know what LNP means when it has intentions “to grow productivity to get us out of this debt.” It means more wage stagnation for real workers.

      Or worse, the flip of the coin, it means robots to replace workers. You can’t get blood out of a stone just because you want to increase productivity. Young people will pay for it, either way.

  9. 0
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    Well of course retirees will be targeted, we are always the first in line

    • 0
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      Let the younger generation of me,me, me cop the burden, we went though 18% mortgage payments, worked hard and have done the heavy lifting. Breeding a few less children would also help their budget and a back to basic attitude.

    • 0
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      Should have seen them here last weekend spending willy nilly in cafes and restaurants, clubs and pubs. They’ve got money to burn obviously.

    • 0
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      Tood, the boomers helped raise the younger generation and instil the values and behaviours in them that you now criticise. That makes you part of the problem, try to be part of the solution.

  10. 0
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    Hi guys. Wake up to where this is leading. Blame retirees because they’re fighting for their basic rights. Why not chase the big business bastards who pay little tax, do their dirty work in overseas tax havens, with poverty level workers, pay minimal wages, opt for casual workers so they can pay minimal hourly wages, deny them proper super, obliterate sick leave and holidays, demand they work long hours when everyone else is safely at home and have the power to fire anyone at will with no consequence. In a nutshell present the lousiest conditions for the working family known in history. Even serfdom was a better system. At least people ate.

    So who is Professor Jennie Granger and her colleague Dr. Brown. Never heard of them before. How dare they interfere in retiree’s welfare by wanting to cut their meager sources of income. We, the retiree’s are sick to death of such “intelligentsia” Bullshit academics who couldn’t do a serious course as doctors, engineers, architects and the like or did a typical professional degree at Whoop Whoop University. Who do they represent? Business academics who are lucky if they did a three year course in “business” administration. What drives business? Yep, how much profit it makes. How do you make profit? Yep reduce costs of production. How do you reduce costs of production? Yep, pay workers bugger all, reduce their entitlements like holiday and sick pay, hide behind Scomo’s anti union legislation, keep wages stagnant for a decade, and charge twice as much for their inferior Australian made products to what they import from “slave” countries.

    Even so called japanese made products like Canon and Nikon cameras are no longer made in Japan, China and even India make all or parts for these upmarket products. I can’t think of one Australian made product that’s famous as a brand name in overseas countries. That means business in Australia is slowly dying out, and though it results in a few multi millionaires who make their millions and then retire on huge incomes and pay minimal tax, they are the ones who look at pensioners and retirees as a burden on society – their society.

    When we had the opportunity to lead the world in electric car production, well before Tesla took on the task, where was the LNP government? I’ve never heard of any politician having a degree in the physical sciences like engineering, biomedical, architecture or even basic design. What actually took place was a complete shutdown of the Australian initiative, ordered by US General Motors and Ford, as they could see the potential and wanted no competition from an upstart like Australia. China was not so foolish. Later the EU came in on the Act and now the US via Tesla. As usual, Australia was left behind. These countries could see something innovative was necessary for world survival.

    I challenge the business community to come up with some idea that will put Australia on the map and start the regenerative process. They should start by paying good wages and have good working conditions, and stop eyeing pensioners’ and retirees’ income and their survival conditions. Also, the LNP government must play a pivotal role in understanding the needs and requirement to fund research projects and also to ensure the benefits flow to all Australians. I want to see “academic” business advisors get off their fat rumps and develop an idea that will put us on the map, where we can all benefit. I’ll stop there.

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