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.