Aussies should live longer: report

A newly released blueprint on innovation has called on the Federal Government to support putting Australia at the top of the world’s longevity ladder.

The paper, “Australia 2030: Prosperity through Innovation” – which was led by Innovation and Science Australia chair Bill Ferris – states that Australia currently achieves a life expectancy of 82.5 years for a “modest” $5566 expenditure per person.

“It is feasible for Australia to become the number one country for both life expectancy and quality adjusted life years, and in doing so lead the world in intelligent, efficient and cost-effective health delivery,” the blueprint continues.

It has called for further investment in medicines based on genomics, the study of genes, to help cure life-threatening illnesses.

Currently, Japan has the longest-lived citizens at around 84 years of age, followed by Spain, Italy, Iceland and Switzerland. Australia comes in at number six.

Opinion: Who is going to take care of the elderly?

Each time the issue around the ageing Australian population is flagged, it prompts a backlash from mostly younger generations complaining that seniors are too big a burden.

And now, the Federal Government has been asked to consider making us live even longer still by investing in research to produce genomics-based drugs!

Without explaining how society is going to cope with an increase in the number of oldies, the thought bubble from the Innovation and Science Australia crew seems inane.

The think tank’s blueprint actually puts the case against increasing the number of oldies when it states: “Australia’s ageing population means a retirement boom is looming, which will create a 6 per cent shortfall in the number of workers needed to maintain current gross domestic product (GDP) growth in 2030

“Employment growth, which has historically been a major driver of long-run GDP growth, cannot be relied on for future growth. Australia’s workforce size is peaking due to an ageing population and retirement.”

It further reports that Australia already punches above its weight on the number of migrants it takes in each year and concludes: “Like other developed countries, Australia faces a shortage of full-time workers if we want to maintain per capita GDP at current levels.”

I have rarely come across a more contradictory paper. On the one hand it describes a looming economic crisis because there are too many seniors, and on the other hand it wants the Government to encourage science to make us live longer still!

“Demand for critical public services is growing at a faster rate than governments can fund them. Australia’s ageing population is increasing demand for health services, which will result in Australian Government health spending per capita approximately doubling by 2054– 55.”

On exactly the same page, it goes on: “Australian researchers can use genomics to build on advances in precision medicine to tackle key causes of death and disability …” So much for the authors of the blueprint being “on the same page”!

In global terms, Australia ranks sixth for longevity. Before our politicians rush to help us age longer we need to take a leaf out of Japan’s book. The Land of the Rising Sun has the longest-lived citizens and it is sinking under their weight. It is not just a coincidence that its economy has lagged behind many other developed countries for more than a decade.

Luckily for older Japanese, the nation’s culture instils deep respect for the elderly among the young. The same is less true in Australia.

Unless our Government can plan for a society that comfortably funds ballooning numbers of senior Australians who are healthy but not able to remain in the workforce, then it is setting us all up for failure.

What is the point of “genetically modifying” medicines to help us live on average 18 months longer to the ripe old age of 84 years of age, as the blueprint authors recommend?

Living longer doesn’t automatically guarantee great health. In fact, as things stand so many older Australians with disabilities are struggling to get assistance. A society where older Australians cannot access help to remain independent and are still seen as a burden is not the sort of society I picture myself ageing gracefully in.

Do you think it is worthwhile investing in new medicines to help us live on average just another 18 months? To what age would you like to live?

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Written by Olga Galacho

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