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Turning grey into gold

The rapid ageing of the population is an alarming development but with the right planning and technology it can be a chance for tremendous growth and gains for all. By Everald Compton

People are growing older and many fear old age far more than they fear death.

Governments of every nation are intimidated by the ageing of the population as the social and economic consequences of meeting the needs of older people have the potential to change the nature of society as we know it today.

But ageing can be turned into an asset – and the opportunity is with us right now. We can decide to ignore it or we can welcome the chance to create a new and innovative era.

It is with this positive aim that the private sector has produced the Blueprint for an Ageing Australia, as the result of a partnership between Per Capita, National Australia Bank, National Seniors, Silver Chain and Ashurst. Per Capita has now launched the Longevity Forum. The task of the forum is to negotiate with government, commerce and industry to get all of the recommendation gradually adopted over a five-year period.

The Blueprint begins by making the point that the longevity challenge is so vast it must become the personal responsibility of the prime minister. A minister for ageing within his own office could co-ordinate a whole-of-government strategy as well as involve state and local governments, the private sector and not-for-profit institutions. Nothing less than this will produce the required results in time.
A key element is the involvement of commerce, industry, finance and the professions in serving the ageing market – which is neglected, but from which significant trading revenue can be generated.

Added to this, Australia can export trading services to the world and, in a vast global market, earn revenue that will more than make up for the decline in export of mining resources.

There are huge opportunities to involve senior entrepreneurs in partnerships with young business leaders to establish thousands of new small businesses, whilst at the same time reducing the intergenerational divide that could eventually cause havoc in society if young taxpayers believe they are carrying an excessive burden to sustain an inactive older community.

Added to this is a significant gap in the housing market, where there is insufficient age-friendly housing for ownership or rental, even in retirement communities. It is a massive area of neglect and of lost profits.

Then there is public transport, where services for seniors, and the rest of the community, are woefully inadequate. If in capital cities no one ever had to wait more than five minutes for a train, bus or ferry, older Australians would leave there cars at home, free up roads and create a profitable public transport sector.

There cannot be the slightest doubt that technology in the health sector can reduce costs and increase the quality of services if adequate investment is made in it now.

Perhaps the greatest challenge is for the federal government to put all current, woefully inadequate legislation for retirement incomes and outcomes through the shredder. It must start again as a matter of urgency to build a policy that will ensure pensions are fairly calculated and superannuation lasts until at least age 90 at an adequate level, with all seniors sharing the tax burden with the young. Eventually, everyone will need an insurance policy to cover the excessive costs of health in their final years.

Finally, there is a grand opportunity to expand philanthropy so thousands of middle-class Australians set up accounts within community foundations, into which they leave part of their estate to work for Australia after they pass on. This will set up a powerhouse for scientific development, medical research, innovation, education, etc.

In turning grey into gold we are limited only by our imagination, curiosity and willingness to take risks to outflank the greatest social challenge of all time.

Everald Compton is chairman of the Blueprint for an Ageing Australia project. 

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