Senate debates

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Questions without Notice


2:39 pm

Photo of Bob DayBob Day (SA, Family First Party) Share this | | Hansard source

My question is to the Minister for Employment, Senator Abetz. All over Australia, people over the age of 70 volunteer in op shops, Meals on Wheels, food banks, canteens, tuckshops, hospital shops, community gardens and so on. They comprise hundreds of thousands of Australians who work for no pay. There are also the grey nomads who travel around working on terms and conditions which suit them. Men and women who work beyond the age of 70 move from the government's payroll to the private sector's payroll reducing the burden on taxpayers. Raising mature-age-workforce participation adds billions of dollars to Australia's GDP, and in the words of the Australian Institute of Company Directors recently, it is 'the next big thing'. My question is: how can we make it lawful for these Australians to be employed under terms and conditions which suit them rather than the government?

Photo of Eric AbetzEric Abetz (Tasmania, Liberal Party, Minister for Employment) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Day's question highlights, yet again, his clear commitment to assisting our fellow Australians to gain employment, whether they be the youth, which he has asked about before, or, on this occasion, those over 70.

I fully acknowledge those people to whom Senator Day referred, who make an outstanding contribution to our community, the volunteers who have already made a huge contribution and who now choose to continue to contribute to their communities and in many cases to their families as well.

The government does recognise that many Australians do want to continue to make a contribution to the workforce albeit on their terms. My department has just published a survey of more than 900 employers. Many employers when responding to the survey made a point of highlighting the experience, reliability, work ethic and strong communication skills that mature-age people bring to the workplace. Many employers also talk about the importance of government financial assistance. To that end, our Restart program provides incentives of $10,000 to employers who employ full-time mature-age job seekers who have been unemployed and on income support for at least six months. So far, already 956 of our fellow Australians have been benefitting from that scheme.

The government is also working hard to create more job opportunities. Coming directly to the senator's question, I invite him and other senators to consider our reforms that we are proposing to the individual flexibility arrangements in the Fair Work Act, which will greatly assist in providing the sort of flexibility that those over 70 would wish and, indeed, need to be gainfully employed— (Time expired)

2:42 pm

Photo of Bob DayBob Day (SA, Family First Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Rather than the punitive measure of raising the retirement age to keep people in the workforce, why doesn't the government instead consider a less-stick-more-carrot approach by keeping the pension age as it is but letting people move off the pension and into the workforce under terms and conditions and at rates of pay which suit them?

2:43 pm

Photo of Eric AbetzEric Abetz (Tasmania, Liberal Party, Minister for Employment) Share this | | Hansard source

With respect, can I correct the honourable Senator. We do not believe that increasing the retirement age to gain the pension is a punitive measure. Indeed, it is a celebration of the fact that we live longer and we live healthier. So rather than it being a punitive measure, we ought to see this as a positive celebration of some of the wonderful advances that health and medicine have been able to do for us as a community generally.

Having said that, there is overwhelming evidence that if you are in work your mental health, your physical health, your self-esteem and your social interaction are all improved and enhanced, not only for yourself but for everybody else in your household. I know there are many employers actively seeking out older Australians. I will give a plug to Bunnings here; they do so, and they have many a retired tradesman providing help to do it yourselfers. (Time expired)

2:44 pm

Photo of Bob DayBob Day (SA, Family First Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. The ABS data out today shows that Australia's GDP growth is still sluggish and not fast enough to bring down unemployment. Deloitte Access Economics said that 'a mature-age workforce results in economic benefits that would rank with the gains that Australia has achieved from some of the major economic reforms of times past.' Will the government please allow workers who are aged 70 and over to do their own thing?— (Time expired)

Photo of Eric AbetzEric Abetz (Tasmania, Liberal Party, Minister for Employment) Share this | | Hansard source

I agree with Senator Day that more work needs to be done to help revitalise the Australian economy. We do have an Economic Action Strategy, an economic action plan, to do exactly that, and I know that Senator Day in general supports us in those endeavours.

I can inform the Senate that I was pleased just recently to join with a former senator of this place, the Age and Disability Discrimination Commissioner, Susan Ryan, to launch the Power of Oldness campaign, which focuses on the very positive contribution that older workers can make to the workplace. The campaign exposes the stark difference between the skills and strengths mature workers offer employers and organisations and the discrimination they face when trying to gain or maintain jobs. We seek to assist older Australians to maintain jobs and to gain jobs. (Time expired)