The ageing revolution crisis

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Departing Age Discrimination Commissioner Susan Ryan yesterday addressed the National Press Club for the final time, promising she wouldn’t “hold back” about Australia’s ageing revolution.

Throughout the speech, Ms Ryan raised strong points about the need to recognise and embrace the economic potential of older workers, as well as people with disability.

“Because against powerful and persistent economic and workforce data demonstrating great potential gains from increasing workforce participation of older people, and despite growing evidence of the willingness and capacity of Australians to lead longer working lives, we proceed too slowly to dismantle the barriers,” said Ms Ryan. “At the same time, we continue to overlook the capacity and desire of people with disability to make economic contributions. This is our loss and, more importantly, theirs.”

The 2015 Intergenerational Report suggests an even greater demographic revolution than most people could imagine, with the life expectancy of men and women to be 95.1 and 96.6 years respectively, by 2055. The report also expects the number of Australians aged over 65 to double by 2055.

“It is not surprising that in Australia, as elsewhere, governments are daunted by the prospect of looming fiscal crises, especially with respect to pensions and health services. It is surprising and worrying, however, that so little has been done to mitigate such crises.”

A Grattan Institute study estimates that by increasing the mature age labour force participation rate by 7 per cent, the GDP in 2022 would increase by $25 billion. Several other studies also support these claims.

The benefits of employing older workers is undeniable, especially considering the knowledge, experience, skills and productivity they bring to the table, but only a few businesses are embracing the older worker. 

“Moving on to the Federal Government and successive Intergenerational Reports, what should we make of the predicted Federal Budget blowouts related to the ageing society?

“The National Commission of Audit found that even allowing for a decline in the proportion of people receiving the full pension, a rise in the number of people receiving the part-rate pension will see the proportion of older Australians eligible for the Age Pension remaining at 80 per cent over the next 40 years.

“So, without change, there is a serious future threat to federal budgets.”

Ms Ryan believes that we need to extend the working lives of most Australians. The mindset of the Australian worker has changed, with the majority now wanting, and needing, to work longer.

Unfortunately, these Australians are faced with a gap in the system not experienced by previous generations – a gap between the age of 55 and 70 where there are a lack of jobs and retraining programs in place to support the longer wait for the pension.

“All older workers – and not just those in the auto industry – should be given every opportunity to transition to growth industries,” she said.

“In addition to the opportunities arising from the digital revolution, the long term structural shift in employment towards services industries continues. healthcare and social assistance; professional, scientific and technical services; education and training; and retail trade are projected to provide, over the next five years, more than 600,000 jobs.

“So, with these ideas and possibilities occupying me, I was very pleased when a little over 18 months ago, on behalf of the Australian Human Rights Commission, I began the Willing to Work National Inquiry into employment discrimination against older Australians and Australians with disability.”

Ms Ryan met with thousands of people throughout the inquiry and received hundreds of submissions. The result of the inquiry is a comprehensive picture of older people and employment in Australia.

The inquiry found discrimination against older people is widespread and systemic, with ageism being a barrier at every stage.

“Older people are shut out of recruitment. Individuals told the inquiry of having applied for hundreds of jobs only to be told by recruiters that they were ‘over qualified’, or ‘too experienced.’ In many cases they received no response at all,” she said.

“Making it to a job interview did not ensure a fair go either. If an older individual did make it to an interview they were typically met by a lack of interest from the interview panel as soon as their age became apparent.

“Older people who are in the workplace often experience isolation, age-related bullying, and are denied promotion and professional opportunities.”

As a result of the inquiry, successive governments have funded programs to address the exclusion of older workers, but the inquiry did find that some government policies are actually creating disincentives.

Doing nothing is not an option. Ms Ryan believes that more needs to be done to promote the benefits of employing older workers.

“Establishing a Minister for Longevity to bring government attention at the highest level to the economic dimensions of age discrimination and to coordinate whole of government action,” she said.

“This Minister would lead policy to realise the economic potential of older people and broaden the dialogue about ageing beyond aged care.

“My approach to tackling age discrimination in the private sector is not so much legislative, but to provide positive examples, showing not only that it can be done, but it is being done and that those businesses doing it are profiting.”

Dr Kay Patterson AO will succeed Ms Ryan as Age Discrimination Commissioner and Alistair McEwin will become Disability Discrimination Commissioner.

“We must, as a society, move more rapidly to accommodate the big societal changes, the big shifts that have occurred in human existence. None is bigger than the ageing revolution. To respond to this, we must remake our sense of human life, its extent and possibilities,” Ms Ryan said.

“Our Australian way of life has delivered great things to many of us: equality of opportunity, security, wellbeing. Those great things now must be extended to all as they live throughout their extended lifetimes.

“This is as big a challenge as we have faced in Australia. I urge our new Prime Minister and his team to make our successful longevity a top priority.”

You can read a transcript of speech at

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Written by Drew

Starting out as a week of work experience in 2005 while studying his Bachelor of Business at Swinburne University, Drew has never left his post and has been with the company ever since, working on the websites digital needs. Drew has a passion for all things technology which is only rivalled for his love of all things sport (watching, not playing).


Total Comments: 49
  1. 0

    The answer about the problem of our ageing population is quite simple and it doesn’t involve a Logan Runs style solution. Ageing is a process, not a problem. Lets get rid of the labels and look at individuals for who they are, the fact that all individuals have abilities of varying degrees, and lets get on with it. The government has no idea what its doing, and has no answers because there isn’t a problem, theres a natural process that many are blessed with. Enough talk and time for action. Lets use all skills and abilities so everyone can live a fuller life and fulfill their potential. Age is only a mathematical concept and they way we count time, age is a man made concept.

    • 0

      Highly skilled older people are often replaced with green behind the eyes genYs to save employers money. Employers are happy to inflict monkeys onto the public with the peanuts they pay thereby improving the bottom line of the business. The next move has been with Call Centres in the third world where you have people who are for the most part total imbeciles, many of whom have poor comprehension and English skills. More profits again. And so it goes on.

    • 0

      Ted and MICK, you are both right. Younger people are, of course, usually inexperienced due to their age and lack of exposure, compared to older people, and IF a younger person can be employer over an older one, they will be. This happens primarily because a younger person will generally take the job at less pay,especially when the carrot and stick are used. Yes, age is a concept, but it is an ingrained concept which is upheld mostly because of the desire to spend less money on salaries of older workers who have seen pay increases because of their length of service, their higher amounts of employer-paid superannuation, long service leave, etc.
      This, desire to lessen expenditure through lesser wages, I believe, is a plain and simple truth to prevent older people from getting a job and one which is often used to terminate an older person’s employment.

    • 0

      It is simplistic to talk about broad sweeping statements of replacing highly skilled older people with young Gen Ys. It is true that in some sectors older workers in entry and lower level jobs are being replaced by inexperienced workers but anyone in these roles is vulnerable to outsourcing and automation leading to loss of jobs.

      It is important to remember that years in a job does not necessarily translate to a better option for employers. Most trades can be mastered within ten years. Employers need vacancies to provide development and growth opportunities to retain their best workers.

      At the other end of the scale senior managers and execs are just as likely replaced by those in their mid-30s to mid-40s rather than someone in their 50s. The reality is that by the time an individual reaches 50 they tend to have sufficient and more relevant experience for most middle to senior roles. Younger workers also tend to be more comfortable with change and technology. An older worker lucky enough to make the shortlist for an advertised vacancy is unlikely to be in the first three or four candidates.

      A compounding problem for older workers is there are fewer jobs and they are increasing at a much slower rate than the increase in older workers. This is why you find many mature aged workers in regions where there are fewer young to compete for jobs.

      No easy answers when it comes to age in the workforce.

    • 0

      I for one have no problem getting work or starting a business. I’ve been semi retired for 5 years and love the life style.
      If you have the skills and are prepared to go the extra mile for your employer you will always be sought out.

  2. 0

    How come the figures differ so dramatically from those put forward by global statistical analysts? And how will forcing more older and disabled folk into work address the problem that technology is expected to cancel out over 5 million jobs in the next 5 years?

    We certainly can do better in the area of offering opportunity to older folk who WANT to work, but perhaps we need to rethink our social structure entirely given that jobs are disappearing fast. It won’t solve anything if we reduce age pension costs by putting older people in jobs but in the process disenfranchise more younger folk.

    I think the bottom line is that our government and its advisers are clinging to the past because they have non idea how to embrace a challenging but exciting future.

    The government’s lack of vision is confirmed by the UTTERLY STUPID change to the assets test, which is guaranteed to drive aged pension costs up by punishing and heavily discouraging planning and saving for retirement and rewarding people for going into retirement poorer. A truly idiotic move!

    • 0

      It won’t Rainey and the whole system is going to erupt into open revolt unless there is a change into how wealth is distributed. I can see the big end of town and their rich owners already as they fail to understand that even their business models will come crashing down if this fundamental question of ‘jobs’ is not addressed. Maybe we should send in Malcolm Turnbull and his sidekick Morrison to fix this with one of their placards.

    • 0

      The ‘global economy’ is showing serious signs of impending collapse right now – been stapled and chewing-gummed together since the GFC….. Australia – as a kind of hybrid First/Third World Banana Republic – is an excellent bellwether….

      I predict its collapse into chaos soon, leaving millions in the third world suddenly thrust back into dire poverty and worse, and the final outcome will be wars over markets (again).

      Look forward to WW III in your lifetime…. I’m serious ….. I write books about future wars and the factors are all in place now, as the economic system collapses in on itself.

    • 0

      The biggest threat I see now is Kicking the Bugs out of our beds, While the Government is Breeding them !! 🙁

  3. 0

    Older workers need to apply for entry level positions. Make yourself open to change and new skills. That is what I did at 60. Not adapting with the times and learning new skills is what ages you in the job market.

    • 0

      Some older workers have more skills than a whole department of genYs but cannot get a job because low IQ bosses fail to see the value in these people and prefer to hire somebody who costs them one third the cost of the experienced worker whilst that person delivers 10% of the value.

    • 0

      Maybe Id better stop writing Welfare Dependent Professional Bludger under ..Present Skills 🙂

    • 0

      I suggest that most prospective pick up very quickly on MICK’s attitude, & wouldn’t be silly enough to employ him, even if he were the only applicant.

      Despite MICK’s assertions, most employers are fairly good at weeding our those unlikely to be satisfactory employees.

    • 0

      Most trade skills are the same as years ago. Main change to all was metrification.
      Old trades people teach apprentices, while young apprentices are promoted on completion of trade.
      Teaching old dogs new tricks really doesn’t apply when the old dogs do the training.

  4. 0

    Are you kidding Drew?
    The reality of life is that older workers are massively discriminated against. So much for all the (existing) legislation. No more than window dressing for political parties to point to to say they are doing something.
    Ryan has done nothing for older workers other than stand on a soap box and arm wave. One might hope that her replacement actually DOES SOMETHING.

  5. 0

    It’s worth Government etc. beginning the debate on a Basic Universal Income for all citizens. This would replace unemployment benefits, age pension etc. and would be paid to all adults, irrespective of their employment status.

    It overcomes many issues including some of the issues discussed here. The economics are not as crazy as they first appear. Costs saved by companies employing technology, robotics etc. would have a proportion funnelled back to the public purse, thus negating the ability of companies to externalise costs onto society.

  6. 0

    Mick and Ronin, You are both right. This article is a lot of words without addressing anything and giving a good wrap to Ryan who as achieved nothing.
    Age and Racial Discrimination are widespread especially in the Private Sector (with Agents and Hirers colluding), and there is no solution offered by Ryan. Firstly, stop this crap about Age Pensions being too hard to afford – simply ensure all big companies and rich pay their fair share of tax by changing rules to ensure minimum tax is paid without claiming deductions.
    Second, discourage Outsourcing of jobs to low wage countries by putting a tax on all such “overseas costs”.
    Third, make Redundancies illegal unless these are Voluntary or forced by company closures – not to help CEO’s make mote profits and increase their bonuses.
    Fourth, make Age Pensions available to all who have paid taxes for say 10 years here.
    Lastly, remove Payroll Taxes, and indeed consider a Bonus Payment for hiring older workers without jobs.

    • 0

      Indeed discrimination is widespread and legislation is not used to prosecute the offenders. But then we do let employers rort the 457 visas for their cheaper labour as well so it is a systemic problem.

    • 0

      Yes, Mick, thanks for pointing out the 457 rorts as well. In fact, I have heard some workers may have paid their sponsors overseas to get into the country – and then work on low wages which are acceptable to poor people from countries such as India. 457s should be scrapped or very tightly monitored.

  7. 0

    Full time work is not a generational issue. Australia has a large low paid part time work force which included a broad spectrum of age workers. Many of them would love to have a full time job. But then this includes all of the other benefits such as sick leave, holiday pay, superannuation contributions, etc. All of which reduces the bottom line of the greedy employers. Australia also needs to address the huge unemployment issue of the under 30’s. We are at the edge of instutionalising a welfare mentality, may be this is the answer to driving out manufacturing, and encouraging innovation for robots to replace humans.
    The $30,00.00 per year for the unemployed sounds like a solution for the future!

    • 0

      Yes 4b2. Australia has the highest first world creation of the part time job. Not too long ago Morrison proudly stood in front of the cameras spouting “20,000 new jobs created”. What he failed to say is that 20,000 new jobs were indeed created but at the same time 10,000 full time jobs had disappeared. In other words the 10,000 full time jobs had been turned into 20,000 4 hour a day jobs….with no add-ons or security as well as employees being on call 24 hours a day.

  8. 0

    The last job I applied for I was greeted with “Your the Oldest person that’s ever applied for the Undertakers Job here !! I don’t know what to write in the Superannuation column ? Do you intend to stay long ?” 🙂 🙂

  9. 0

    Australia needs a reality check and an attitude change. Nothing stands still and as things move on so there are new opportunities. Like it or not, the days of digging stuff up and making things in Australia are clearly numbered. Instead of wasting energy being nostalgic over industries long past their use by dates and demanding the Government prop them up with taxpayers’ money, we need to be investing in the new jobs areas and training people to transition to them – whatever their age.

    We need to stop blaming the ’employer’ for all life’s ills. Most employers are just trying to make a living just like everyone else except they have to make a living for all their employees as well. Employers are NOT charities. They are permitted to make a profit. If they don’t, they will close down and more people will lose their jobs. Don’t forget that it is the SMEs that employ most people in Australia.

    Nothing will change with regard to the employment of those over 50/60/70+ until there is a whole culture change in Australia. We have to move away from the youth-centric attitudes that prevail today and start valuing the contribution each person can make.

    • 0

      I think you’ll get a Cultural Change here Quicker than You’d like it if we let the Government keep on the coarse they are Navigating 🙁 🙁

  10. 0

    As an age pensioner there are a lot of casual jobs I could do with my experience and university qualifications, but a lot of them are asking for some ticket or specific computer programme that has only existed in the last ten years. Employers don’t want to spend time on the interview for casual work, they just want somebody who fits exactly into the job specification. I find myself needing to pay money to do some course.

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