All Australians needed to rethink the role the seniors population has in continuing to rebuild the nation and to remove all barriers, both discriminatory and legislative, to their achieving this, according to the new chairman of the National Seniors Australia organisation, Professor Judith Sloan.
Prof Sloan, 59, says the greatest economic and social challenge facing Australia this century is the rapid ageing of the population.
“The nation will reach a point where, as health costs steadily climb, there will be more people out of the workforce than in it, she said.
Prof Sloan, a Melbourne economist, former ABC deputy chairman, and a director on two Frank Lowy boards, took over from long-standing National Seniors chairman Everald Compton.
“I look forward to carrying the mantle for older Australians and ensuring their voice is central to the national debate,” she said.
“The big issues for 2011 will be cost of living, aged care, health, and retirement income. Unforeseen costs associated with carbon taxes and super fast broadband networks have greater impact on retirees with fixed incomes,” she said.
“I believe Australia can lead the world in making an ageing society a prosperous one. As a private citizen I will work to make that happen,” she said.
Prof Sloan said she hoped to continue the work of Everald Compton who founded National Seniors Australia 35 years ago and last year successfully negotiated major pension increases despite worldwide economic downward trends..
She said the over-55s represented 45 per cent of the voting public and their voice was a powerful one.
Meanwhile, National Seniors chief executive Michael O’Neill said older Australians would welcome the Labor Government’s commitment to cheaper, simpler and more transparent superannuation in its response to the Cooper Review.
Mr O’Neill said of the 117 Super System Review recommendations put to the Government last year, the most critical to consumers was the introduction of the default, no-frills MySuper option
“For too long, the retirement savings of ordinary, hardworking Australians have been unknowingly milked by industry through fees and trailing commissions,” said O’Neill.
“It’s not illegal, but the super system is so murky, so complex that very few consumers would know they’ve been paying $85 a month or over $1000 a year in fees alone.
“This green light for a simple default fund with lower fees means that when consumers hit retirement they’ll have an extra $40,000 in retirement savings,” he said.
“Australia Institute research suggests those savings could be as high as $100,000.
“On both choice and default products, we are keen to see the development of an independent consumer-friendly website that would allow Australians to easily compare super funds, “ Mr O’Neill said.
He was commenting on the independent review into Australia’s trillion dollar superannuation system which was urging a range of sweeping reforms.
The key recommendation of the long-awaited Cooper Review was the previously announced establishment of a default superannuation option known as MySuper, which would lower superannuation fees and boost retirement nest eggs.
Under the proposal, the Government legislates to make MySuper the default superanuation fund for employer superannuation, so unless a worker ticks another box or nominates a particular superannuation fund, the 9 per cent employer contribution (soon to start rising to hit 12 per cent by 2019) would go to that default fund.
Earlier this year, two thirds of respondents in a National Seniors survey on superannuation supported the availability of independent performance comparisons.
“National Seniors welcomes the choice to go with the cheaper, no frill superannuation option,” Mr O Neill said.
‘We also welcome Minister Bill Shorten’s positive response to National Seniors’ representations for a stronger consumer presence in the roll out of the reforms and the continued operation of the system into the future,’’ he said
In another important development recently, Mr O’Neill also said seniors have welcomed the Productivity Commissions’ draft report into aged care, Caring for Older Australians, as the first salvo in the debate Australia had to have.
Responding to the 500-page draft report, which includes 42 recommendations across finance, care, housing, research and regulation, Mr O’Neill said it was only the first step towards much-needed reform.
“The one thing providers, unions and consumers can all agree on is that we need a better system for our most vulnerable older Australians,” he said.
“This draft report is just the start of an extensive consultation process, and, at the moment, there’s a lot of detail to wade through.
“While seniors welcome the exploration of alternative funding models for a system buckling under the weight of demand, there will be questions around bonds; the government-sponsored reverse mortgage scheme; and including the family home in the assets test,” he said.
“We also want to see more on improved working conditions such as better wages and training opportunities, and smaller nurse-to-patient ratios, which ultimately impact on quality of care”.
According to a 2010 National Seniors-commissioned Access Economic report, in the past five years nursing home quality of care has deteriorated markedly with an increase of residents to staff.
Mr O’Neill said positive elements coming out of the Productivity Commission draft report included recommendations to streamline and individualise services which are currently fragmented and a nightmare to navigate.
“We all grow old, and at some point we will all have to deal with the system either on behalf of family or for ourselves. The Productivity Commission inquiry is a chance to start getting it right for this and future generations,” said O’Neill.
National Seniors will gauge public opinion in coming months on the more contentious draft recommendations, Mr O’Neill said.
“Older Australians who need aged care now mustn’t panic over talk of bonds and reverse mortgages – this is merely the start of a consultation process that could take years to implement”.
The Productivity Commission will conduct hearings throughout the country and release its final report in June.
Meanwhile in good news for many charities affected by the various climate calamities in several states earlier this year, it has been confirmed that not-for-profit groups excluded from accessing government flood relief grants will be the target of funds available through the National Seniors Foundation Trust’s (NSFT) 2011 grants program.
NSFT has been providing grants to non-profits for around 23 years. This year the Foundation is offering grants to non-profit organisations that support or provide services for seniors focussing on non-profits in flood-affected areas.
National Seniors Foundation Trust general manager Karen Furnivall said grants of up to $5000 were available.
“We have heard that a number of charities will have to cut other essential services due to urgent demand created by the effects of the flood,” Ms Furnivall said.
“We don’t think seniors should suffer any more than they already have so that’s why we are encouraging not-for-profit groups that help seniors to put in an application.
“In times of crisis and disaster, non-profit organisations are the lifeblood of our communities providing food, shelter to the homeless and emotional support to those in need.”
Ms Furnivall said there had been a lot of negative press about charities missing out on the grants.
“It’s a real shame these groups have missed out. We don’t think it’s good enough so that’s why we are leading the way in offering these grants.”
The closing date for grant applications is 30 April 2011 and applications need to be endorsed by the local National Seniors Australia branch.