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The Grey Army

Young people starting out in life are a great resource for our future. Investing in them, giving them a helping hand to get started, is the responsibility and obligation of this generation. We must nurture them while they learn not only skills for employment, but life skills. When they fall, we must help them get up, dust themselves off, and help direct them on a better path. We must give them hope and reinforce that opportunities are available – help them to prepare for and recognise them and take advantage when they come around. They must have choices. The social and productivity benefits of this are obvious.

Cutting funding for the Gonski reforms, closing trades training centres, removing the tool allowance, saddling students with huge debts, cutting off the dole for 6 months a year, compulsory work for the dole, defunding youth advocacy groups and employment assistance programs – none of these measures seem to meet our obligation to our young people. They have been given an ultimatum -“EARN OR LEARN” – but many crucial programs that would assist them in doing this have been abolished.

We are offering them the Green Army or the Gap Year Real Army or find someone to support you for 6 months and get good at taking rejection.

At the same time, we are raising the pension age to 70, indexed to prices rather than wages so progressively diminishing comparatively, driving more people into poverty in the future.

Because less than half of the population between 55 and 64 has any kind of paid job, and only 30 per cent has full-time work, we are also offering $10,000 to employers to take on an over-50 employee. At the moment 400,000 fit and willing Australians over the age of 55 can’t get work.

I understand their stated reasons for doing these things, I just don’t think they have really thought it through or examined repercussions or alternatives. They have also exaggerated/lied about projections (quel supris), at odds with the ABS, which may add another reason why funding to our national bureau of statistics has been slashed.

Hockey said that the number of Australians between 65 and 84 would “quadruple” by 2050 but on the ABS’s high-growth projection (they do high, middle and low) there will be 2½ times as many people in this age group by 2050 than there were in 2010.

Hockey said “the percentage of people of working age supporting those over 65 will almost halve”. Using ABS projections, the proportion of people “of working age” (defined by the statistician as 15 to 64) was about 67 per cent of the population in 2010 and will be 63 per cent in 2050. (This figure is based on the ABS’s middle projections.)

Hockey predicted that only 37 per cent of the population would be of working age in 2050, yet the best available estimates from the ABS show it is in fact is between 61 and 63 per cent. Even if age-employment ratios stay as they are now, if productivity keeps rising at its present rate, average wages will rise by 56 per cent over that time. So those in full-time employment will be better able to provide support and services to the rest of the community.

Increasing the pension age to 70 will see a large increase in the number of people on the disability pension. A higher proportion of people aged 65-69 will have a disability compared to those aged 60-64. It would also give us the oldest retirement age in the world. Several countries have moved to 67 as Kevin Rudd suggested, the UK is going to 68, but 70 is pushing it too far.

It is also inequitable. Indigenous Australians have a much lower life expectancy than non-indigenous Australians. Males 67.2 years and 78.7 years respectively, Females 72.9 years and 82.6 years respectively (ABS 2005-07). The majority of Indigenous people would not make it to pension age at all unless we can close the gap. People from lower socio-economic strata also tend to have a lower life expectancy, as do remote rural areas compared to urban living.

Australia currently has the fourth-lowest level of public pension spending of any OECD country and is projected by 2050 to have the third-lowest level of pension spending. Where Australia is unusual is that it has by far the highest level of tax concessions for private pensions in the OECD, at four times the OECD average.

An increase in the pension age reduces the pension wealth of lower-income groups proportionately more than it reduces the pension wealth of higher-income groups. It favours the wealthy who are able to invest in superannuation. Under current regulations, they can start drawing on this at age 60, get very large annual incomes paying far less taxation than workers on similar incomes, perhaps invest in a new family home, which will not be considered an asset should they find themselves eligible for a part pension when they hit 70 which, because they live longer, will be an expense on the public purse for longer.

As it will not come fully into effect until 2032 it also does nothing to help the current budget deficit. On its own, it will not do much to help with future deficits as tax concessions for superannuation are set to outstrip it in a few years’ time. Many complementary policies will need to be considered, including a requirement that superannuation be taken in the form of lifetime annuities to ease the pressure on age pensions. Affordable long-term care would also appear to be essential in preparing for population ageing, possibly through some form of long- term care insurance.

As with young people, this should be about choice and utilising a valuable resource, rather than viewing both our young and our old as a welfare burden due to some number on a piece of paper. Older people should have the option of working and flexibility in their employment to allow for carer’s responsibilities for elderly parents, disabled spouses, or grandchildren. They should not be in competition with young people, fighting over a dwindling pool of jobs. Their experience, expertise, knowledge and service should be recognised, celebrated, and used in more creative ways.

Currently much volunteer work is done by retired people. Upping the retirement age to 70 would see us lose some of that vital workforce. Rather than a Green Army, we could have a Grey Army of volunteers who could transition to retirement or supplement their pension or superannuation with volunteer work that attracted some remuneration or concessions. This work is often more attractive to older people who may be more suited to it and they could mentor younger people who may be interested in joining them.

Defunding Landcare and then tendering out the Green Army to private service providers (who collect a handsome fee for their free workforce with no workplace entitlements) is a decision that continues to baffle me. They were such an obvious meld, dedicated passionate people teaching the young to value their environment and using their labour in meaningful ways.

Young people could teach older people how to use modern technology like computers and mobile phones and even remote controls. This would vastly enhance the lives of elderly people and foster mutual respect rather than disdain or antagonism.

Obviously, the best solution would be to create more jobs and to close a few tax loopholes rather than forcing people into poverty, and to accept that there will always be some people who need our help, and always a small minority who will abuse our help. Dealing with that small minority should not dictate social policy.

Our children and our aged have every right to expect our help and support and we have an obligation to continue to protect a society that sees this as an investment rather than a handout.


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  1. Michael Taylor

    Bravo. Well said, Kaye Lee.

  2. geoffreyengland

    For the life of me Kaye, i just don’t understand why THIS government refuses to invest in our school leavers.
    Are they trying to induce a nation of dummies? If that is the case, and I suspect it to be so, they are not going to have the taxpayer base to support anything much at all in the future.
    I am no economics expert and I am not trained as an analyst but to me the above fact seems immutable.

  3. MIssPamela

    What a very sensible and inviting solution, Kaye Lee. Both groups have so much to offer. This idea means they both continue to feel valued as productive members of society and can share the wealth of knowledge they have.
    Our current government seems hell bent on demoralising everyone except the already wealthy and privileged, and portraying many groups in society as “bludgers” who take from others. I think we have seen from the recent Marches that many diverse groups of people of all ages, genders, cultures and ethnicities, socio-economic backgrounds, and religions can unite and work together for what they believe in.
    However, because this is such a rational idea, it will not be adopted by either major party.

  4. Kaye Lee

    Maybe we have to bypass the Federal government and start these initiatives at a local government level. Let them lobby the States for the funding who can then convince Peta Credlin that it will win her votes.

  5. Kaye Lee

    One thing that keeps coming to the front of my brain, is that we have vastly more votes than the wealthy plus we supply the labour. It is not in anyone’s interest for us to withhold labour, tempting though it may be (and necessary at times) so we must use the power of our vote.

    We can’t watch three years of destruction, followed by a vested interest advertising campaign accompanied by some targeted porkbarelling.

    As you know, I advocate a $50/week increase in Newstart – every cent recycled into economy, people more likely to get a job if they can afford housing and food and clothes. This will increase demand will which call for greater supply which will create more jobs and more profits to shareholders and taxes to government and less dependence on welfare. It just seems so damn obvious.

    Likewise, we must create demand for policy change. There are lots of us that they can’t bribe and when sufficient people join together they can’t threaten us either. If we create the demand through weight of numbers, we pressure individual politicians to supply the policy alternative we suggest (no point whinging without a better alternative), a party will manufacture the policy we demand, and THEN we will know who to vote for. It really is up to us. They can do trickle down, we can be a tsunami.

  6. MIssPamela

    That is certainly worth a try. Our local government / council members seem to have very close ties to the current state and national government. I find that disquieting as I believe they need to put aside party politics to effectively represent the people of their area.

  7. Kaye Lee

    Another advantage of using local government is that it is more accessible to local people. We can go talk to them and write emails and go to council meetings. For too long, local councils (in some areas) have been the haven of developers. We can elect people who want the best for the community rather than wealth for developers.

  8. Sir ScotchMistery

    One of the things which constantly shocks me with the work of P Credlin (Acting PM by proxy), is that they have gone out of their way to disenfranchise the grey vote, for what for the life of me, are unfathomable reasons.

    Changing the age of entitlement probably started as a humorous side note to a discussion between Tony and Joe, over cognac and a cigar, with Peta ensuring no media got an opportunity to report on the situation at the time.

    “The age of entitlement is over” opines Big Smokin’ Joe..

    “No it isn’t” opines Peta, blissfully arranging herself like a scabby cat on the lounge – “it’s 70”.

    “oh” says Joe, “never thought of that”. “Doh” notes Peta.

    “Scratch just under my left ear” whines Tony, ever the whinging pom. “And lick me again…..”

    I have come up with at least a possible reason, but it is so out there I’m almost frightened to suggest it… What if they are depending on all the older folk forgetting what they have had done to them?

    Further, what if they are depending on the staffing of the “green army”, being too young to care what is being done to them?

    And lastly, how stupid do they think we all are?

  9. Sir ScotchMistery

    Following a recent weekend conference at Wangaratta, driven by the electorate of Indi, there is a movement afoot of communities seeking an alternative to what we are currently getting.

    How do readers feel about the idea of getting together groups of people within the community and finding out exactly what the community wants, then going out and finding a candidate with the capacity to sell what the community wants to the whole electorate?

    If 12 young people in Wangaratta can do it, surely any of us can?

  10. Andrea Charlton

    I think you are absolutely right, Kaye, that this is one way for Australia to pull some benefit out of the current (apparent) crisis. I want to start an organisation that could handle this kind of inter-generational working together. Surely there is a need for it – just look at all the brilliant people who are about to lose their jobs! And how few jobs there are for older Australians. Just as surely there is no one organisation that can do all this right now. Many great organisations do part of it – Probus, Aged Care, Volunteers Australia and many organisations that depend on and value volunteers. Starting a small business is prohibitively risky – can we spread crowd sourcing and share legal and financial expertise as a business organisation might? There is so much we could do if we could get organised somehow.

  11. corvus boreus

    Sir ScotchMistery, the Wangaratta idea seems worth a resounding “shityeah”.
    To start with it would begin to give voters the idea that, in the House of Representatives, they should be electing individuals whose ideals and qualities best represent the electorate, not a political party.
    It may also(dream dream) give voters a sense of personal and collective empowerment, increasing their levels of political interest and engagement beyond the current begrudging obligation to habitually tick a box every three years.

  12. Kaye Lee


    I would do everything I could to help anyone who has the energy to get the ball rolling. Getting government grants is probably the way to go with some of the funding going to administration rather than setting up a small business which does entail personal risk. We should also explore the untapped potential of Australia’s wealthy non-philanthropists.

    I have always had a dream of healing farms (there have been successful examples) where families, or teenagers, or people with health problems…could go for a short stay. Grow food, tend animals, learn to cook cheap meals from fresh produce you have helped grow. Have a social worker who can talk to them about options and help them fill in forms and contact support groups. Have contact with local employers who may need temporary staff and partnership agreements with affordable housing groups for those who have nowhere to go to transition into longer term accommodation if required. Have contact with local adult education groups who could advise of appropriate courses and training that may be available.

    But mainly, stop labelling people who have struck hard times. Why make it harder? We don’t need to. Our government thinks incentives work better than punitive measures when it comes to big polluters, but not when it comes to people.

  13. sam



    Teenage employment decline in Australia reaching catastrophic proportions

    Ideally Australia should move in the direction of ‘full employment’ and a ‘job guarantee’.
    If you dont move in that direction its a self-fulfilling prophecy of underutilisation, welfare dependence and social issues which will ‘cost’ more in ‘real quantities’ in the long run. *who wants an artificial constraint placed on well being and productivity, kids to grow up facing overcrowded job market?

    The government can always afford to fund education. Its only ideology that it makes students pay for university degrees/trade skills in a modern capacity constrained fiat money system.

    In comparison to say an ‘average’ european education system: In France for example where they fought for free education and will protest the s**t out of the place if anyone lays a finger on it.
    French get university and technical colleges/and a few other AUstralia does not have (which absolutely run rings around the lame excuse TAFE has become) free. There are fees but not in any way like Australia’s pathetic system and you can get those paid for by government if you qualify for a set of disadvantaged criteria.

    We already had tertiary education cuts and fee increases in 2003 i remember protesting this because it was savage back then.

    They already won:
    I attended a conference and witnessed speech by Amanda Vanstone whom said it would be ‘only fee rise needed to keep the system competitive/was a reform that would bear pain once’ *note: look at that rubbish sentence liberal rubbish as per usual. We all know its a systemic ‘core’ ideology for liberals/an iterative process for them just bring in more deregulation/user pays again and again once the stupid public have forgotten what happened previously.

    If you think of the ‘constraints’ in the scenario the conservatives are baying about then look at the inverse of the problem the ‘user pays’, ‘age of entitlement’ rubbish is just fascism.

    For example ‘ageing population’ is a good outcome. With physical hard limit to global sustainability (every 1st world person consumer footprint) you want successive younger generatinal bands to be smaller. If it was inverse that would be a disaster.

    Hence the issue is simply about labour underutilisation/technological/infrastructure constraints. It they want to manifest some sort of ‘we cant afford to pay’ angle on this issue as if its a hard limit on the problem you have to wonder about how good they are at their jobs.
    Why is there a system in place that cant link together people coming into the workforce with work in an industry that has ‘real’ need with high productivity due to modern technology for sustained productive careers with real value?

    (after all capitalism is all about product and ‘need’ is abstract and defined afterwards. SO if i can get a super grip vibrating toothbrush why cant we use the same mechanisms in capitalism to fulfill real problems).

    Hence in conclusion the inverse of ‘the age of entitlement is over’ would be:
    Everybody was/is/will continue to be entitled to live in civilised society where progress needs intrinsic quantities like education and work. It was not a ‘constraint’ to be entitled to this. However taking it away is!

  14. Stephen Bowler

    Well said all of you for providing intelligent and objective views about the policies espoused by this Neo-Libral government.

    All of your comments are reasoned and articulated on behalf of those of us who believe in a fair go and a community of equality.

    I have to say that you all seem to ignore the simple fact that this government cares not about community and equality of opportunity. In fact they were very open about their ideology prior to the 2013 election.
    Their starting statement was that ‘prices are too low and wages are too high’!
    All thst has transpired since tey came to power, seems to me, has transpired to prosecute the intent to rectify that starting statement.
    It also seems to me that they care not what this realy means as long as they get the ‘wages down an the prices up’!

  15. Sir ScotchMistery

    Excellent points Stephen.

    Welcome aboard.

  16. corvus boreus

    Stephen B,
    The Abbott LNP government does not care about community or equality of opportunity.
    Also, food stops you from staving to death and a breathable atmosphere aids survival.

  17. Kaye Lee

    We crucify our young and old and sick and disabled and our unemployed. In the mean time we get rid of the carbon tax, the mining tax, and cut company taxes for these people:

    “Australia’s largest coalminer, Glencore, paid almost zero tax over the past three years, despite income of $15 billion, as it radically reduced its tax exposure by taking large, unnecessarily expensive loans from its associates overseas.

    At up to 9 per cent, the interest rates on these $3.4 billion in loans were double what the company would have had to pay had it simply borrowed the money from the bank.

    As it was claiming tax breaks in Australia on these inflated interest payments, the secretive Swiss-based multinational actually increased its lending to other related parties interest free. This may include its executives.

    The focus on Glencore’s tax is timely. Research from the Australia Institute this week identified $17.6 billion in government subsidies and assistance for the mining industry. As the third largest resources group in the country after BHP and Rio Tinto, Glencore is a beneficiary of this largesse.”

    Read more:

  18. DanDark

    This country is so stupid, we have lost our way,
    My little girl is 9 today, she has no future in this country
    Women in Africa are doing better off than we are here now
    Reports left right and centre, but it will get worse, because
    No one cares, not even other women in power
    And if I disappear, I have no internet, food is a must, internet is a luxury
    Have a great day everyone 🙂

  19. Kaye Lee

    Happy Birthday to your little girl Dan 🙂

    I disagree about the future of women in this country. My children are 20 and 22 – they are part of our future as are your kids. They are good, hard-working, caring people. They are not as politically aware as I would like so I target the message when speaking to them, but they know that Tony Abbott is a temporary carbuncle on the arse which will be excised shortly. In the mean time we have to fight him every inch of the way and empower the other parties/Independents to do what is right. They will only have the courage if we give it to them…we must be the leaders by investigating, learning, spreading the word, and actively opposing this attack on our society in whatever way we are able.

    And Dan, I think if you are home schooling your little girl, the internet is a necessity. It offers us all a chance to learn.

  20. DanDark

    Kaye, thanks, we will agree to disagree,
    And well it will be pencil and paper,
    If you can’t afford technology you go back to basics Kaye
    And a lot will be doing the same
    We have out smarted ourselves
    A bit to cute by half this country 🙂

  21. Winifred Jeavons

    If this is the first year of this government by the destroying army what will the future be? Can a dysfunctional society be healed? Will we finish up like Hitler’s Germany , fearing and hating and distrusting anyone a little bit different ( say, poor, disabled, colored ?) . it seems to me that we confront a huge problem with climate change, and the disasters it can bring, and that this an issue that MUST be attacked co-operatively , not by battening down the hatches an dlooking only after number one. Selfishness on this scale is a crime against humanity.Also unbelievable short-sightedness.

  22. sam

    The fact that this government wants to ‘balance the budget’ is ideological dangerous nonsense. Its economically illiterate and a lie. This seems to be the crux of the Liberals argument. Even if they’d like to help they cant.

  23. Lori Forbes


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