In his speech introducing the report, Wayne Swan, the Treasurer of the Commonwealth, focused on areas with respect to the aging workforce: increasing productivity and increasing participation. Responding to declining productivity, Swan said "And the best way to grow the economy is to maintain our focus on productivity, on investing in skills and infrastructure--nation building, the Education Revolution and regulatory and tax reform to underpin productivity growth in the decades to come." However, acknowledging that this is not enough, Swan said that "we need to keep encouraging workforce participation."
There has been a tendency in previous reports to present the ageing of the population only as a problem to be solved.Sources: Treasurer of the Commonwealth of Australia Speech (February 1, 2010); The Australian "Inconvenient truth on ageing" (February 4, 2010)
I prefer to focus on how we can best harness the life experiences and intellectual capital of older Australians. These are Australians who have already made a massive contribution to our nation. Their experience is invaluable.
Many will choose to leave the workforce, and enjoy a well-earned retirement, for a variety of reasons. But if they want to work they should be welcomed into the workforce.
Australia has a lower rate of mature age participation than other comparable countries – like the US, UK, Canada and New Zealand. There is considerable room for improvement in this area.
Groups like National Seniors Australia – and it's good to see Everald Compton here today – have identified a range of issues that we need to consider – including raising community awareness, encouraging skills development and promoting healthy workplaces.
If we can remove the obstacles for older Australians who want to work, we not only improve the quality of their life but we also strengthen the economy. That's what our Budget changes to the work bonus were all about.
The choice for older Australians to stay in or leave the workforce should be just that – a choice, not something forced on them by prejudice or bad policy.