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increasing retirement age, reducing secondary education « Previous | |Next »
May 19, 2009

One of the changes in the 2009 budget was raising the retirement age from 65 to 67, with the change to 67 raised progressively from 2017 to 2023. My immediate response is that this good policy measure is undercut by the constant pressure from the markets, governments and companies to get employment numbers down in the name of efficiency. The older workers --- those with bigger accumulations of entitlements and higher salaries ---- are the ones whose retirement will produce a "leaner", and more desirable company or department. So older workers will leave the job early--take early retirement.

Greg Melleuish in The Australian response to this proposal is that it is unfair. He says:

Any government of whatever political persuasion has to deal with the twin issues of the changing age structure of the population and the need to ensure there is intergenerational justice. Governments in Australia have opted for the simple and, it could be argued, unfair solution to this problem by raising the retirement age as well as the age at which one ceases full-time education.

Melleuish says that such a course of action has real problems in that it keeps older people in the workforce at a time when they might not wish to be there. It keeps young people caged up in classrooms when they would prefer to be out in the wider world.

The smarter solution would be to provide young people with the opportunity to escape from the classroom and to gain employment. The truth is that the earlier they start working, the earlier they can retire. This can be done in two ways:

The first thing that could be done would be to slice a year off secondary education...The second thing that could be done would be to make the universities more efficient by insisting on a trimester system that allows for courses to run during summer. This would enable students to complete their degrees in a shorter time and to enter the workforce earlier.

I'm uneasy about slicing a year off secondary education. That effectively means a turn to the pathway of unskilled labour, rather than the pathway of increasing skills to participate in an information/knowledge economy. An indication of why this is such a bad idea.

The path of low skills that leads to a trade qualification is part of the conservative stance of defending the socially conservative battler of suburban and regional Australia against the inner-city professional middle class. Yet in a global world Australia needs knowledge and technical expertise to keep pace, economically and technologically.

Lane Wallace in his Defense of the Liberal Arts at The Atlantic says that:

In an increasingly global economy and world, more than just technical skill is required. Far more challenging is the ability to work with a multitude of viewpoints and cultures. And the liberal arts are particularly good at teaching how different arguments on the same point can be equally valid, depending on what presumptions or values you bring to the subject.

Moreover, if, Australia needs knowledge and technical expertise to keep pace, economically and technologically, it also needs innovators and entrepreneurs creating break-through concepts and businesses. who have the confidence to buck convention. An apprenticeship in a trade is not going to give you that.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 8:57 AM | | Comments (11)


The earlier they retire, the more strain they put on the budget. It would defeat the purpose.

A tertiary summer semester sounds great, except that's when a lot of working students save to cover the rest of the year. It's also when academics do most of their conferencing and travel for various reasons.

John Ralston Saul suggested that we should retire on leaving school, so we can have babies, get extra education and acquire some wisdom before we enter the workforce.

Another idea that might have some relevance is the notion of lifelong education. In such discussions we should be careful about our definition of education, which in the first instance is not for the economy, but as way, allowing for human diversity, for the person to fulfill themselves, and incidentally better able to serve the community.

Clearly, the digital economy requires some elementary training. I could not help but notice on a visit to the Emergency Ward(not me this time) that nurses entering data were not touch typing. In that environment, it seems to me that time saving, efficiency is important.

The Age/Nielsen poll suggests that only 40 per cent of voters support the change and 56 per cent oppose it. The "don't knows" were only 4 per cent. You could say that the change was unpopular.

In The Age Saun Carney makes a good observation when he says that:

Australian society does not value older workers. It treats them as a joke, a burden and an annoyance. How many of us want to pencil that into our future?

He is dead right on that. It is best to shift to do something worthwhile. We have the time. Carney goes on to point out we live longer now:
When the pension age was set at 65 early in the 20th century, if you got cancer or developed a bad ticker, you died. ....By the time most people made it to 65, their bodies were clapped out

So true. Now we have grey nomands because workers who were able to access their superannuation at, say, 62 can expect to enjoy 20 years in the post-work phase before reaching the average life expectancy age of 82. You could say that 67 is the new 55.

Related to the nurses not touch typing thing, I'm amazed at how much time people waste at work because they don't understand filing systems.

In the days of paper and filing cabinets, a good filing system was a foundation of business. If you didn't have one, you couldn't operate.

I've watched people scroll through miles of unfiled emails and files randomly dumped in My Documents or similar, searching for something that should be instantly findable. Imagine what that would look like if it was mountains of paper instead.

Either somehow the basic skills haven't translated, or we've stopped teaching them. Probably a bit of both.

It might seem silly to suggest we go back to teaching the old secretarial, girly skills, but it's silly to be doing things digitally if we're not doing them efficiently.

isn't this called digital literacy? It is a step learning curve as more and more of our life becomes centred around the internet or mobile broadband. Apple's iphone is changing things as much as the computer.

I notice that Malcolm Turnbull can touch type--or pretends to when he posed for the tv cameras when they showed him preparing his budget reply speech.

yes very good point re lifelong learning. But it is more than treating the computer as a typewriter or re-learning efficient filing.

My own experience is a case in point. My shift to giving more time to photography is not just a shift to a digital camera from a film camera or learning the limitations of a digital camera. It has involved a shift from a PC Microsoft environment to Apple computers (best for design + visuals), acquiring new processing software (Lightroom), setting up networks, photoblogs and a website gallery, learning how to do e-books, e-magazines etc.

It is a major ongoing learning curve that could be called digital literacy. This is not just about consumption as I've become a prod user. As I acquire the confidence to do more and more with the photography online I begin to see more possibilities online, which in turn, require learning more skills. And so it goes on.

Gary ST:
"You could say that 67 is the new 55".
Only if the economy continues to hold and only if you've already been on the dole long enough to appreciate what a true invasion of the psyche unemployment is.
Otherwise it is the other way'round.

Complaining about the increase in retirement age is just silly. The change comes in some years from now, the imbalance between the old and young will have increased, and it really is unlikely we will still be in this downturn.

In other words there will be a shortage of labor. It effects me, the change happen the year I would have retired but I sensible enough to see it it the way it has to be.

I think that the pension age increase from 65 to 76 is framed in terms of the long term perspective of the Intergenerational Review (IGR). I'll have a look at Ken Henry's recent speech and see what he says that they are trying to achieve with that policy, then report back.

From where I stand I think there will have to be a massive rethink of Australian employment practices. Most people I know over 50 are not able to secure full time work once they are retrenched unless they are heads of companies. They are stuck in part time work and casual employment. I also know 59 year olds on Newstart Allowance and that is a vicious cruel and degrading experience.
I see that raising the retirement age while increasing the gap between aged pensions and Newstart will have the effect of decreasing the life expectancy of those stuck on Newstart as the struggle to feed themselves and get adequate medical attention while they live on $234 a week rather than $310 a week plus health care card for upto 15 years.

When statisticians talk about increasing the workforce participation rates for the over 55s they want to raise the rate from 50% to 64%.

I ask you, how many manual workers over 50 aren't suffering from arthritis, bad back, concreters knees, process line worker shoulders etc. That's before we start talking about reduced vision due to cataracts, maclear degeneration, glaucoma and who knows what else. Then there's the age related deafness. And those aged 65 can add to the list of common ailments of old age.