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Aug 2, 2010

Pummelling of pensioners just plain wrong

Last Thursday the editor of The Punch, David Penberthy, verbally belted the bejesus out of the 60 somethings. He seems unaware of age discrimination in the workplace, writes Ava Hubble.


Last Thursday the editor of The Punch, David Penberthy, posted a story headed A message for the pensioners of Australia – get stuffed’. He went on to verbally belt the bejesus out of the 60 somethings.

He claimed that the majority of pensioners “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.”

He urged these “silly old buggers” to stop bleating about their entitlements and read the Intergenerational Report.

He says this document warns that Australia will go broke in little more than 20 years unless Australians become “more self-reliant in their autumn years.”

Penberthy applauds Julia Gillard for her concern about the size of last September’s $30 pension increase. He didn’t mention, though, that it was only single pensioners who received a $30 increase. Pensioner couples were only awarded an extra $5 each a week, presumably because it is widely believed two can live as cheaply as one.

In any event, Penberthy, the former editor of the Daily Telegraph, reckons that the retirement age should be quickly raised to 70. He seems unaware of age discrimination in the workplace.

In May last year, when it was suggested that the Australian retirement age be raised to 67, recruitment consultant, Toby Marshall, of Abacus, told Crikey that most employers refuse to even interview job applicants over 35. Marshall predicted that unless attitudes changed, older workers, even exceptionally well-qualified older workers, would continue to be forced, in between short stints of low paid casual work, to live on the dole.

Attitudes do not seem to have changed. But so far neither Julia Gillard, nor Tony Abbott or Bob Brown have made age discrimination in the workplace an election issue. Meanwhile the global economic crisis has intensified the competition for even the most menial work.

Yet pensioners continue to apply for jobs, despite knockbacks from human resources officers who are sometimes humiliatingly ageist.

The Combined Pensioners and Superannuants’ Association (CPSA) points out that many pensioners depend on casual work to cover the cost of dental and optical treatment, the replacement of white goods and Christmas presents for grandchildren.

Penberthy might like to check with the Australian Electoral Commission to see how many septuagenarians have applied to work at polling stations on election day. The shift starts at 7.30am. Work will continue at many centres until the early hours of the next morning, when all the votes will have been counted and all the election furniture packed up for collection.

Meanwhile the CPSA has been trying to get Centrelink’s confusing and controversial new reporting rules for pensioners on the agenda before the election.

These new rules were introduced in tandem with last year’s pension increases. Briefly, they enable pensioners, whether single or living in a partnership, to each earn $250 a fortnight without loss of pension. If they earn more that $250 a fortnight, their pensions are reduced by 50 cents in the dollar for every dollar earned in excess of the $250 threshold.

The new rules are widely considered to favour pensioners lucky enough to have a regular job, but not those who are only able to get one or two gigs a year.

The CPSA’s policy/research officer, Antoine Mangion, cites the case of “Gerald” who briefly earned about $2,400 a fortnight last year working long hours and six-day weeks for the NSW Board of Studies during the HSC exams. He ended up losing most of his pension for the corresponding period. So did his wife, even though she did not work. Mangion explains this is because under the new rules the pension cuts out if a pensioner couple earns more than about $2,500 between them during a 14 day period. Previously, Centrelink, like the tax office, allowed pensioners to “average” their earnings over 12 months so that those who earned their entire annual income in a short period would not be unfairly penalised.

A spokesman for the Shadow Minister for Families, Housing and Human Services, Kevin Andrews, has confirmed that he has received many complaints about the new rules. So it may yet become an election issue. Meanwhile, the office of the minister, Jenny Macklin, has insisted that no pensioner is worse off under the new rules.

Yet the CPSA points out that while pensioners can now earn a total of up to $6,500 a year without penalty, the proviso is they must earn that income in fortnightly sums that do not exceed $250. Whereas if, during the year, they earn only $2,500 while working as a relief Santa at the mall for 14 days, they forfeit their pension for that fortnight.

Which brings us back to young David Penberthy. During his rant in The Punch he lampooned the “plaintive cry of the pensioner” and portrayed the grey hordes as constantly on the lobby for recompense for a lifetime’s hard work. He suggests that many of today’s pensioners didn’t work as hard as the current generation of young Australians who are struggling to buy houses which are about three times as expensive, in relation to average earnings, as they were in the 1950s.

But those were the days of one-income families; an era when women in some occupations were forced to resign when they married. There was no such thing as paid maternity/paternity leave. The family allowance was then the equivalent of about $12 a quarter. Superannuation was the prerogative of only the top end of town.

It was the workers of that era, the pensioners of today, who fought for equal opportunities, as well as the eight hour day and many other improved working conditions which, it could be argued, Penberthy’s generation have allowed to be steadily eroded.

But we’re not going to get far by allowing shock jocks to set one section of the community against another. We should be demanding that those standing for election tell us what they are going to do about age discrimination in the workplace.


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12 thoughts on “Pummelling of pensioners just plain wrong

  1. Lucy

    No need to “presume” anything. The reason for the disproportionate increase in the single rate pension were stated right there in the report on the Senate inquiry into the matter:

    “People consistently gave evidence to the committee that the maximum single-rate pension level as a proportion of the maximum couple-rate pension is notably inadequate”


    “Consistently expressed in evidence was the overwhelming view that those most at risk of financial stress are single pensioners – especially women – receiving the full-rate pension and living in private rental accommodation.”

    Nobody is making policy based on the belief that “two people can live as cheaply as one.” The pension rate for singles is around 2/3 of the rate for couples. This simply reflects the fact that couples benefit from what the inquiry describes as “cost-sharing” – of petrol, insurance, gas, electricity, etc, etc.

    Also, given that the largest generation in history is on the verge of retirement, you don’t have to be ageist to at least consider the fiscal wisdom of granting permanent pension increases across the board.

  2. Liz Johnston

    Call for Apologies.
    Some opinion pieces, such as this one, are designed not to promote discussion but to get attention. Penberthy probably learned as a youngster that the louder and more offensive the tantrum, the more attention it gets. So don’t blame him, blame his parents’ faulty child raising. On that note: Did Piers Akerman and Andrew Bolt have parents and if so will they please stand up and apologise to the nation

  3. EnergyPedant

    The trouble with any pension related debate is that pensioners fall onto a long spectrum of different circumstances.

    Today’s 60 y.o.’s who will qualify in 5 years time are a completely different category to the current 75 or 80 y.o.’s.

    Remember that for those over a certain age it basically was the job of the government to look after people later in life. Back in the late 70s and early 80s before Thatcher and Reganomics top marginal tax rate used to be 60% and government funded all sorts of services that no longer exist.

    Low official inflation has for years hidden the old person cost of living price rises. Cheap electronic goods from China aren’t a major component of a 70 yo’s budget. Most of their cash goes on food, medicine and utilities.

  4. Liz45

    @LIZ JOHNSTON – Of course David whatsisname didn’t have the guts to say that we should be given ‘the little pill’ when we turn 60? Perhaps even 55? Of course, he didn’t canvas the idea, that sexism and ageism should be outlawed! That CEO’s in tv land are committing a crime if they use language such as “boning” when they want to get rid of a woman, who may be pregnant or just getting older, They shouldn’t be able to only put young attractive women before the TV cameras – unlike the ABC and SBS. I wonder what his office manners are like?

    As a single woman who relies on the pension as my only source of income, perhaps he thinks I should’ve been ‘removed’? when my youngest turned 18? I was 41! Why do I have to pay the same ‘access and service’fee the same as couples or families – on renting my phone line, and for gas and electricity. There are other anomolies too! I was forced to stop work when I got married(commonwealth employee) and wasn’t eligible to contribute to superannuation until a couple of yrs prior to being permanently injured at work – as a state govt employee then.

    I think David ??? should get stuffed! Perhaps I could wish that he fall on hard times- just to get a taste of his own medicine. My charitable thoughts don’t stretch to people like him these days. I’d just like to see him knocked off his perch! Bastard! No dobt he’s a coalition voter????

  5. Elan

    Penberthy is an rrrrrrrsoul.

    I’m not interested in his tacky opinions.

    I do believe in euthanasia though..

  6. Liz45

    @ELAN – I believe in euthanasia too! I believe in a person’s right to choose! I’m against being lectured at by god botherers who possibly, probably haven’t even been sick, let alone watch someone they love die? Have you noticed that the people who spruik about the ‘joy’ of a person’s last weeks? haven’t ever really watched a family member die? If they don’t believe in a person’s right to die when they choose, that’s OK-their decision – they don’t have the right to inflict that view on others! Same as a woman’s right to choose to have or not have an abortion! Her decision, not theirs? Or mine either???

  7. Ailsa Purdon

    I think the issues raised in the article are really valid and relate to the need for a more flexible labour market. I don’t think it is just ageism we are dealing with , but the apparent belief that moving forward is achieved by change and the best way to achieve ‘change’ is by bringing in new employees fo whom everything is new. That way you change implement ‘change’ without actually changing anything.

  8. harrybelbarry

    Well someone that started work at 15 yrs old , paid cash for my 1st car at 16.5 yrs old and then stuffing my back (L5 – S 1) at 45 yrs old. I know what its like going through the sickness benefits(way less than dole) assessments,doctors, etc etc and was lucky to get a Centre-link women that had a husband with a stuffed back.After spending all savings , they put me on Sickness benefits for 12 months. After that more grilling and was put on a Disability pension. Anybody that thinks living on a pension is like winning lotto is wrong, even if you are living in your (banks) home. When bills fill the fridge door, i look around and put something on ebay. Labor’s pensioner increase was much over due , but the paper work to earn more is too much and should be worked out over the year. Hopefully David will do his back in, moving his gold bars around. Not everybody has money left after the week to put away for a rainy day. Liz45, i watched my partner die slowly of cancer , which is really starving them over 12 months and was no joy. At least i had the choice with my dog (cancer) and he got the green dream and was quick and humane.

  9. Elan


    I was referring to euthanasia where there is a real need for it………..

    However I agree with you.

    Abortion? Here we part the ways. I have what I suppose could be defined as a conservative approach. At the very least I have a great deal of concern for how abortion is used/viewed in today’s society.

    Still; that’s not the focus of this topic.

    ………and Penberthy is still an rrrrrrrrsoul.

  10. Elan

    Interesting. It appears that the auto mod questions eu..than..asia.

    Funny little bugger.

  11. jennede

    Both views are right to some extent. You can have a lot of money and still get a part pension, with all the benefits like cheap medical. The government would save money by lowering the amount of money/income threshold.

    Plenty of people over 50 can not find work, they have excellent experience and a wonderful work ethic. Age discrimination is absolutely rife, and is tolerated when no other discrimination would be.

  12. Liz45

    @HARRYBELBARY – I’m so sorry about your partner. I’ve also experienced losing people that I love through cancer. My partner’s daughter died in June ’09 – she was only 46 and a beautiful and caring person. It is a terrible and cruel way to die. Sadly, not eough politicians have suffered, otherwise their attitudes might be more compassionate. If animals were allowed to live in that sort of agony, there’d be howls of protest, and rightly so!

    Like you I’ve been through the workers comp system; mine from RSI(repetitive strain injury – caused by my work) and people have no idea how physically, mentally and emotionally draining and demoralising it is. For the first 38 yrs of my life I was regarded as an honest and trustworthy person – after I filled out the form re workers comp, I was treated as a liar, a cheat, a malingerer etc. Almost 27 yrs later, I take slow-release morphine twice daily, just to function with a manageable degree of pain. Living on a pension is tough. I’m lucky that I sew most of my clothes, curtains etc and I’m a small person without a big appetite and used to shortcuts etc re a budget. I used to make clothes for my sons until they reached ‘that’ age?
    People, mainly women with RSI were treated like men with back problems used to be. When the incidents of RSI decreased(due to much hard work and lobbying by Unions etc – of which I played as big a role as I could – speaking to other workers etc-re prevention etc?) then back injuries were the new targets? Disgusting! How many employers have been taken to Court re unsafe workpractices that cause back injuries? Not enough!

    I was denied a disability pension until I fractured my coccyx – badly! I could not use my arms to protect me from a fall, and landed straight on my bum on a tiled floor. I lay on the waterbed/lounge etc for 6-8 wks? Awful! Even then, it was another 4 yrs before common sense prevailed. It was July ’96, and I suspect that the newly elected Howard govt wanted to reduce the unemployment figures????Casting aspersons on those suffering from bad backs is gutless and demeaning! I have trouble walking very far, sweeping, vacuuming etc and sometimes a simple thing like getting out of the car the wrong way will aggravate my back – or putting the roller door down – with my foot, once! My eldest son had a remote roller door installed one year for Xmas – bless him!

    @JENNEDE – The inquiry into pensions during Kevin Rudd’s PM’ship exposed the fact, that people with assets exceeding 1 MILLION DOLLARS are receiving a pension or part pension. I think that this is wrong, and these monies should go to increasing pensions for people who have no other income, let alone any assets.

    There was a good article in the SMH entitled, ‘Millionaires Blasted for Claiming Pensions’, Stephanie Peatling, 26th Februrary 2009. Notice that it wasn’t in the Murdoch press!

    A major reason why single women in receipt of pensions are among those living in poverty, is due to the sexist division re divorce settlements. Many men paid the house mortgages and utilites bills, while women’s incomes were spent on all food required; clothes for herself and children and all linen/crockery required by the family. In my case, I also purchased white goods and others such as a new vaccum cleaner etc! Many of women’s inputs could not be proved and these contributions were not deemed as signigicent by sexist judges in the family court. Jocyln Stutt and another woman wrote, ‘Marriage, Money and Property Settlement’ that points to these injustices very factually!

    As you correctly point out, sexism in the workplace exists, and also ageism – for both sexes, however it is particularly hideous against women. How many women with grey hair read the news on commercial TV/magazines etc? Only on the ABC/SBS/Gardening Australia/cooking shows etc. Younger women are discriminated against on the grounds of sex also, and this includes pregnancy. There are over 11 million different sites to read, on the internet once you put ‘sexual harassment’ into your search engine. Incidently, I applaud the legal action taken by the young woman who was an employee of David Jones. I will certainly think of her in future, and will avoid that store, not that I shop there very much – out of my price range!

    As I pointed out earlier, women didn’t have access to Superannuation until the early 70’s -certainly not if you were classified as a temporary employee on the NSW gvt payroll – I’m not aware of other states, but it would be safe to assume that they were no better. Further, married women and single men were also discriminated against by state govt super funds. Upon their death, their contributions died with them – their super could not be accessed by their husbands or in the case of single men, their male partner or family member??Thankfully, these discriminatory practices were dispensed with in the late 70’s or early 80’s – not that long ago.

    As for medical treatment, I believe in the Medicare system, and believe that all persons should contribute according to their means, and access according to need. Nobody in this country should have to worry about money if they’re ill. This is Australia, not the US?

    I frequently hear men on ABC local radio complain of ageist attitudes from employers. There are some good stories, but these are in the minority. It’s ridiculous for people like Peter Costello and this so-called journalist, ranting on about older people in the workforce, while they choose to ignore the sexist and ageist behaviours in the community – fix them first, then rave on about perceived ‘lazy’ older people! David ???? should keep in mind, that he doesn’tknow what the future has in store for him or his colleagues. A little compassion wouldn’t go astray! And this lot don’t allow facts to interfere with their diatribes!


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