A message to the pensioners of Australia: get stuffed
If Tony Abbott is serious about tackling dangerous gangs which are threatening to destroy Australia, he should start with the aged pensioners.
Crazed Latvian pensioners brawl over a handout. Photo: AFP
Personally I am much less worried about what a large intoxicated Islander called Fuifui is going to do to me at the pub at after-work drinks tonight than what Clem and Ethel are going to do the national economy in 20 years’ time.
Just to be clear, I am not talking here about the genuine battler pensioners who have no assets other than their family home, or the real salt-of-the-earth oldies who have only ever rented or lived in public housing, the people who deserve an unchallenged leg-up from government in their twilight years.
The people I am talking about could be loosely described, to borrow Bob Hawke’s famous phrase from his encounter with aged voter Bob Bell at a Whyalla Shopping Centre in 1989, as the “silly old buggers” who believe that turning 65 is the equivalent of winning lotto, and that it’s henceforth the job of government (ie, the taxpayers) to guarantee them a living.
The grey hordes have had more fun this week than on a day trip to Victor Harbour courtesy of Laurie Oakes’ revelations about Julia Gillard’s cautious approach to a proposed pension increase while deputy prime minister in the Rudd Cabinet.
It was a cracking story, and not just because it shows there is a dangerous rat in Labor’s ranks, who possibly speaks mandarin, and may yet re-appear with more devastating leaks through the remaining three weeks of the campaign.
And there are two aspects of the story which seriously reflect on Julia Gillard’s judgment and possibly even her character.
The first is to note that it’s a tremendous pity Ms Gillard didn’t bring the same rigour to her deliberations within Cabinet on the shambolic insulation scheme, or aspects of the Building the Education Revolution stimulus spending which were over budget or poorly allocated.
The second is to ponder the allegation that Ms Gillard said Labor was misguided to give pensioners a raise as “old people never vote for us” – a phrase which, it must be stressed, she has vehemently denied ever uttering. But if she said anything like that it would suggest a pretty sad level of cynicism on her part.
But beyond that, speaking here as a younger voter, everything which has emerged about Gillard’s conduct inside Cabinet is not cause not for condemnation.
It’s cause for celebration.
Surely any sensible person would think it’s a good thing that members of Cabinet will look at outlays of this size and think long and hard before agreeing to them?
This wasn’t loose change we are talking about. The total cost of the $30-a week aged pension increase and the paid maternity leave scheme was $50 billion over 10 years.
As Gillard herself put it: “If people want a prime minister that will have $50 billion of expenditure put before them and sign away without even a question asked, well I’m not it.”
Thank God for that.
The really bizarre feature of this week’s pensioner furore is that Julia Gillard only ever questioned the pension increase over its affordability – but ultimately supported it.
What this proves to my mind is that it doesn’t matter how much you give some pensioners, they will keep on whingeing anyway.
The tone of the debate has been utterly hysterical. It’s like someone put amphetamines into the urn at a bingo hall.
83-year-old Beryl Gillard – hopefully no relation – had this to say in The Daily Telegraph.
“She’s a liar and a communist and we don’t want communists in power,” the PM’s namesake fumed, ignoring the small fact that if Ms Gillard is a dirty commie she’s a pretty hapless one, as she’s giving us all a chance at a general election to vote her out in three weeks’ time.
On Radio 2GB, where the old joke is that many of its listeners remained tuned in because they’re too decrepit to get up and adjust the dial, talkback radio turned into Fight Club for pensioners this week.
My one simple request to these folks is that they sit down and acquaint themselves with a chilling document called the Intergenerational Report.
This is the document which shows how, if left unchecked, and in the absence of new measures encouraging Australians to be more self-reliant in their autumn years, the pension will send the country bankrupt in about two decades’ time.
The first thing which should be done with the stroke of a pen, supported by both sides of politics, is to raise the retirement age (at the very least for white collar workers) to 70. The current age of 65 was introduced at the turn of the century when it almost exactly mirrored male life expectancy. Now it’s an anachronistic joke, which means that many Australians waltz in rude health towards 65, knowing that the state will be there to support them forever more.
The biggest cultural change which the country requires goes to the sense of entitlement. It’s a bit like the old cliché about migrants arriving with just 10 pounds in their pocket – I am sure that every migrant was given 10 pounds at the wharves on arrival to make good on the stereotype. Equally, the plaintive cry of the pensioner is that they deserve automatic assistance “after working hard all our lives”.
The truth is that many pensioners didn’t work any harder and possibly even less harder than the current generation of younger Australians, who are struggling to buy houses which in real terms are about three times as expensive in relation to average earnings as they were in the 1950s.
An even sadder truth is that, with the explosion in the number of Australians accessing the disability support pension – the numbers bearing no logical correlation to the rate of impairment and disease in the community – many of the aged pensioners you hear on talkback haven’t worked at all for a very long time, but have simply shuffled off the DSP onto the aged pension.
And the greatest irony is that it’s the baby boomers, those postwar sods who got to smoke heaps of cannabis and make out in the sun through the 1960s, who are now conspiring to block or delay any real action on tightening the pension, such as more realistic means testing, so that all the ugliness is put off until us Gen-Xers who saw Nirvana play at the Thebarton Theatre finally retire at the grand old age 70 or even 75.
Sorry to sound like a cranky young bugger. But it makes me laugh that any politician can be denounced for carefully vetting a really expensive policy, and then supporting its introduction.