ACFS 2016 International Distinguished Lecture: A New Paradigm for Ageing in Australia
The 2016 ACFS International Distinguished Lecture was delivered by Simon McKeon AO, who spoke about the need to reframe the debate about the ageing population, and the value of older workers.
Mr McKeon is Chairman of Monash University and has had a distinguished career in financial services, including 30 years with the Macquarie Group – culminating in his position as Executive Chairman, Melbourne office. Mr McKeon has also been involved with a number of other organisations including as Chair of CSIRO, MS Research Australia and Global Poverty Project Australia, and Director of VisionFund International, World Vision Australia and Red Dust Role Models.
Mr McKeon was recognised as Australian of the Year in 2011 and was appointed an Officer of the Order of Australia in 2012, for his distinguished service to business and commerce through his leadership and advisory roles, and to the community as a supporter of national and international charitable, educational and sporting organisations.
Mr McKeon began his lecture by noting that Australia faces two important questions as the baby-boomer generation approaches retirement: how will we fund retirement for the largest and healthiest cohort of retirees in Australia’s history; and how can we ensure they enjoy a satisfying retirement?
The demographic shift in our society has created a generational time bomb – the cost of the Age Pension already exceeds federal government spending on education and defence, and is expected to grow as the number of people over 65 increases.
These increases may be mitigated if people choose to stay in the workforce for longer, delaying their retirement. This would have additional benefits, such as increasing individuals’ wealth, health and self-worth. But it requires change to the way society, employers and individuals view the role of older workers.
There have been enormous improvements in the quality of life for older people over the past century, but our economic, political and societal expectations about ageing have not moved at the same pace.
Government incentives to encourage the employment of older workers have so far had limited success, and there are a large number of older workers who are unable to find work.
Businesses can respond by realigning workplaces so that older workers are welcomed and supported. These workers will have different needs and abilities to younger workers, and may require reskilling as they transition to roles where they’re sharing their knowledge and experience, rather than managing.
Ultimately, we need an open discussion which engages the broader society as well as every sector of the economy if we want to change the paradigm about ageing. As well as being the healthiest generation yet the baby boomers are the loudest – and they will insist on their right to continue to work.