A new age for Australia’s workforce

| April 3, 2013

Australian Centre for Health Research Executive Director, the Hon. Neil Batt, discusses the history of Australia’s pension scheme and questions whether a standard retirement age is still relevant in the 21st century.

Old age pensions for men were first introduced in Australia by the Deakin government shortly after Federation. Sixty-five was set as the qualifying age – an age particularly attractive to the Treasury given the life expectancy of an Australian male at the time was only 57 years of age. It was not expected that many would claim.

The Labor Party also forced a provision that excluded from the pension those born in Asia since, according to the then Prime Minister; they were not welcome to stay.

We now have the assumption that all citizens are entitled to a government pension or superannuation in order to live out their lives in comfort once their working life is over.

Surely this is destructive to the value of older people. Why should people automatically stop working at 65? Why don’t we work till we drop?

There are numerous examples of people who have made noteworthy contributions to society well into old age. Gladstone was Prime Minister of England until he was 86 – and he retired reluctantly.

Konrad Adenauer had a similar story in Germany, where, as the first post-war Chancellor (1949 – 1963), he led the country from the ruins of war to a powerful and prosperous nation. Known as “the old one”, Adenauer belied his age as the oldest elected leader in world history with his intense work habits. Likewise, Averill Harriman, the American statesman, broke his leg while surfing at the age of 92.

The question is not when we should retire but why should we stop.

Age is not chronologically related. Different people vary greatly. Some are old at 30 – others are vigorous and vital into their nineties or older. Society needs to adjust to the requirements of different people.

Work is the great beneficiary. Work provides relevance and independence and income.

Adjustments need to be made for different people and different capacities. It is silly to measure everyone by an artificial measurement of time.

Let’s open up the opportunities.