SUSAN RYAN. Older Australians, winners or losers?

May 20, 2019

In this election , there was an extra 300,000 voters aged over 65 compared with the 2016 election. The parallel increase for young voters was 135,000 , less than half the older voter increase. Did older voters exercise this voting strength in the interest of their age cohort? It seems not. I see more losers than winners among older Australians.  

The older losers are pensioners who can’t afford dental care, or who own neither a home nor property and share investments. Mature workers excluded from a job by ageism are condemned to poverty and have lost out. Add in the older people with cancer who can’t pay the out of pocket costs of necessary medical procedures, and also grandparents who exhaust themselves, or stop working to mind grandchildren whose parents must work but can’t afford childcare. Access to public hospitals for necessary surgery and care will not improve for pensioners. The 100,000 older people assessed and approved for aged care at home will continue to wait, up to a year or more, if they don’t die waiting. The older people who are deeply concerned about the dangers of climate change or worry about the adequacy of their grandchildren’s education are losers too, as are migrants who had hoped to have their parents join them in Australia. Those who must rent but can’t afford it face continuing and frightening insecurity about finding a roof over their heads. The older voter cohort as a whole seems to have left poorer older people stranded in poverty.

Some older voters are winners, just as in every age cohort Coalition voters have won.

Older voters with substantial assets including large amounts of tax favoured superannuation, property investments and shares, have won a continuation of all their concessions and benefits . Some well-off older voters do express concerns about climate change but if they feared some climate change measures may risk a cost, they didn’t vote for them. Well off older voters may well want a good education for their grandchildren but know they can choose to support expensive, well-resourced school options.

They want their children and grandchildren to be prosperous and properly housed, so they  build up their estates as much as possible, utilising all the tax concessions available to family trust structures and share and property income. They plan to leave large superannuation assets, built up by tax concessions at every stage, to their children . They view any suggestion that they draw down on their superannuation for retirement living expenses as an erosion of their rights as wealth holders, to be avoided if possible. They are winners. The Coalition government will maintain their wealth and privilege in every detail.

Voters of all ages who voted to retain their economic advantages are winners. Under the Coalition they will suffer no intrusion on their wealth and privilege. Meanwhile , poor older people, of whom there are many more than well-off seniors, have no relief. They will remain losers, at least for another three years.

Susan Ryan served in the Hawke cabinet and was Age Discrimination Commissioner 2011-2016.

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