Hardly a ‘kitchen’ cabinet

Yesterday Prime Minister-elect Mr. Abbott announced his first ministry.  Many portfolios held in opposition have been maintained, including Julie Bishop as Foreign Minister, Malcolm Turnbull as Communication Minister, Joe Hockey as Treasurer and Christopher Pyne as Minister for Education. Missing from the new front bench are former shadow ministers McDonald, Mirabella and Gambaro. A promotion has been awarded to the relatively inexperienced Mathias Cormann, who is now Finance Minister.

Mr. Abbott described the incoming ministry as one of the most experienced in Australia’s history. He also said “I’m obviously disappointed that there aren’t more women in Cabinet”. Which makes one wonder who chose the incoming ministers if Mr. Abbott is disappointed? Is he disappointed in himself? Or is he suggesting the talent simply wasn’t there, in his own party?

In noting that the new cabinet has just one woman, the Labor spokesperson and former Treasurer, Chris Bowen stated that, “the cabinet of Afghanistan now has more women in it than the cabinet of Australia.” and described the Abbott ministry as backward because of its lack of gender balance.

Former shadow minister for seniors, Bronwyn Bishop, is now Speaker of the House.

There is no longer a Minister for Ageing, Disability or Mental Health.

Read the full list of Abbott Government ministers.

Read Chris Bowen’s comments.

Opinion: Where’s the Minister for Ageing?

In a report released last year, the United Nations has declared ageing demographics a “megatrend that is transforming economies and societies around the world”, estimating that one in nine people of the world’s population of seven billion are over 60. The report also warned that ‘the skills and knowledge that older people have acquired are going to waste, with many of them underemployed, underactive and more likely to become a drain on a nation’s resources.’ Australia’s CSIRO states that an ageing Australia is one of six megatrends which will shape this nation in coming decades. Our own Treasury’s Intergenerational Report in 2010 noted “The ageing of the population is the major factor driving the slowing in economic growth.”

So ageing is a big deal.

And in recent years we had began to see some progress, with positive economic incentives to hire older workers, the appointment of a Commissioner for Age Discrimination, and a pension increase in 2008, albeit a token amount.

Yes, incoming governments must have the freedom to set their own portfolio priorities, and to reshape their ministry to reflect these priorities.

But since when is ageing Australia not a priority? With almost half the population now aged 50 or over, either in retirement or heading there in the next decade, why would we not be placing the highest priority on planning for an older society?

By 2030 the number of over 60s will have nearly doubled. Where will the housing, transport, social services, health care and retirement income come from if we are not making it happen right now? Mr. Abbott yesterday decried the use of long ministerial titles and said that, because something wasn’t a ministry, it was not a sign it would not be taken seriously. Well I happen to disagree. We have a veritable avalanche of older Australians moving from full-time work to retirement. They are underfunded and ill-prepared. They will need financial literacy, health incentives and more suitable end-of-life accommodation and care, just to state the obvious. And these services will not magically appear unless they are well planned, funded, and constructed. If no single minister in Abbott Government is responsible for this massive task, then heaven help us.

The lack of females in the Abbott Ministry is a worry. Mr. Abbott says they are ‘knocking on the door’ – a euphemism for ‘not a priority’. The lack of a Minister for Ageing is a scandal. And ageing Australia is clearly not even near, yet alone on, an Abbott government agenda.

What about you? Do you think ageing Australia is in need of its own dedicated Cabinet Minister? Or is Kaye simply getting excited about nothing?

Written by Kaye Fallick