The University of Life experience

| April 12, 2013

As our life expectancy grows and the positive mental and psychological aspects of being employed are obvious, Senator Eric Abetz explains why we should tap into the talent of our ageing population with a more flexible retirement age.

The concept of productive ageing was brought home to me when I met with the Indian Opposition Leader in January this year.

Mentally alert, quick witted, excellent recall and physically robust he would not be in Australian politics. Why? Because he is 85 years old.

Closer to home we have two excellent barristers, both former Attorneys General – Hon Tom Hughes QC and the Hon Bob Ellicott QC. Well into their eighties they are still sought out for advice. Yet, under our Constitution they could not be serving on the High Court because there is a compulsory retirement age of 70.

Australian society at large is the loser from this mind set.

There is no real substitute for graduating in the University of Life Experience.

Our aged pension entitlements were set in times where life expectancy was a lot lower than it is today. We are gradually lifting the age qualification, one suspects mainly because of budgetary pressures. Public policy whilst appropriately looking at the budgetary implications has failed to deal with the benefits on the other side of the ledger.

It seems our relatively young society by world standards still suffers a cringe factor in recognising the wisdom brought by age and the tempering of the human spirit by real life experience.

The social data on the positive aspects of having a person gainfully employed in a household are overwhelming. From physical to mental health, to self-esteem for the individual. For society at large a positive contributor becomes a tax payer rather than a tax taker. Personal benefits and community benefits abound.

Gainful employment and engagement ticks all the boxes to drive public policy in favour of finding gainful employment for its citizens.

But why should all this stop at some arbitrary magical age?

The self-esteem, physical and mental health of individuals is still enhanced and their contribution to society at large will also be of benefit irrespective of age.

To harness these societal benefits from older Australians and assist the quality of life for individuals our public policy formulation needs to be more flexible in areas of hours worked, workers compensation and insurance.

If we could fully and legally harness these inputs it would be better for all.

In short we need to celebrate and be thankful that we are living longer by harnessing the inherent talent of our ageing population by opening up opportunities in all areas – especially employment.