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Seniors call for more autonomy

Forum hears examples of ageism in society

It’s an experience shared by many elderly people – being ignored by a shopkeeper who thinks because of their age they have no money to spend.

It was one of numerous examples of “ageism” raised at a recent National Seniors forum looking at the rights of elderly people.

Social commentator Wendy McCarthy says she’s part of that “invisible” demographic, discriminated on the basis of age.

“When you get to a certain age nobody sees you in the shops or other places and we have all been through that experience,” she told the forum in Canberra last week.

A community campaign, like the feminist movement of the 1960s, is needed to make the necessary cultural changes to address age barriers.

Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick says Australians live in an “ageist society” particularly in the workplace.

Age discrimination laws were the weakest of their kind in Australia, she told the forum, suggesting a convention to protect the older people’s rights be considered.

A government review of legislation was needed to highlight age discrimination, such as the 75-year age cap on compulsory employer super contributions, and denying business start-up grants on the basis of age.

The concerns were echoed by some in the audience, who actively participated in the forum.

One woman was concerned that aged care facilities being built in high-rise blocks to cut costs was a form of “institutionalising of the old days”.

Another woman said she wanted legal rights to demand palliative care.

“We keep people alive too long and I don’t want to be kept alive too long,” she said.

Also speaking at the forum was Jesuit priest Father Frank Brennan, who said the rights of the elderly could be better protected by a human rights charter.

Father Brennan, who headed a committee that recommended a charter, was critical of the government, saying its response to the final report was not “very principled”.


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