A remarkable achievement for these learned and no doubt highly-paid experts to have unearthed a fact that a junior demographer in the 1970s would have been able to reveal – if Governments in those days had bothered to listen.
I could go back further, mindful of a report in the 1960s which stated that if the current demographic trends continued there would come a point where there would be just two workers for every one retiree. However, that was a UK publication, so I simply mention it in passing.
These latest reports show that, for the most part, Australian Governments have been asleep at the wheel for the past 40 years when it comes to adequately preparing for the collapse of the country’s working-age population. Note my difference, the Productivity Commission, the Treasury and others, always put the problem on older Australians – too many of them – rather than productive working younger people – too few of them.
It is so much easier to blame the inevitability of people getting older, over which Governments have no control, than the shortage of tax-paying workers, which Governments could and should have fixed over the past three decades.
One way of tackling the problem should have been a far larger compulsory superannuation fund. The Hawke Government belatedly introduced one at nine per cent in the late 1980s, but there it has rested ever since, woefully inadequate. Successive Governments since have either actively blocked further increases or simply elected to do nothing. What we should have in 2013 is a scheme at around 15 per cent with an employee and well as employer component.
Secondly we should have looked to immigration far more than we have to reduce the age of our working population. Yes, I am well aware that this would be a short-term fix; nevertheless it ought to have been part of the equation. Despite the long drone from unions about immigrants taking jobs from Australians, evidence has shown this is clearly not the case and that new arrivals actually create jobs in the medium to long term by setting up small businesses and creating demand for services.
Finally there should have been a far more sustained effort to encourage young people to have more children. This goes beyond slogans like former Treasurer Peter Costello’s “one for the mother, one for the father and one for the country”, or even baby bonus rewards. What is needed is a comprehensive package of easier and affordable childcare available to all, more attractive maternal and parental leave and tougher laws to ensure that all employers understand that they cannot disadvantage their employees who take time off to have and care for their children.
The Productivity Commission’s answer, is, as usual, weighted against older people, with pensions and retirement ages lifted to 70. While higher age levels are needed, a draconian increase to 70 is unfair and possible unsustainable as there are a number of occupations where people would simply not be able to perform adequately at such an advanced age. This would mean (presumably) that they would have to receive some other form of taxpayer-funded assistance.
Many older people are prepared to do their bit. But to designate them as ‘the problem’ is unhelpful and just plain wrong. They are not the problem; they are a significant part of the solution.