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Untapped potential: treasurer talks silver economy

Australia should harness the potential of older entrepreneurs to change the narrative about an ageing population’s impact on the economy.

That’s one of the key points raised by both Federal Treasurer Scott Morrison and COTA Australia today.

Morrison told attendees at COTA Australia’s Aged Care Reform after the 2018 Federal Budget Conference in Sydney that aspiration has no age limit. He also spoke at length of the economic opportunities of an ageing population.

“When we talk about ageing sometimes, you would think when you hear from public policy makers or bureaucrats or economic commentators, that it is some sort of economic curse that people are living longer and healthier,” he said. “It’s good news. It’s great news and we need to think of it like that.”

Still, he added that there are “genuine risks” if ageing is approached without an understanding of the opportunities on offer.

“The ageing of our population does not have to be an economic curse, an inescapable drag on our future economic growth or a mogadon for productivity.

“Of course these are all genuine risks if the ageing of our population is not properly managed, and not prepared for.”

Morrison told attendees the story of 99-year-old entrepreneur John Johnston.

Retirement was a coat that never did quite fit John, the co-founder of vacuum cleaner retailer Godfreys. He would miss the action too much.

So he went out and bought controlling share in the company – A 99-year-old entrepreneur.

There’s a phrase we don’t hear often enough: 99-year-old entrepreneur. I hope we hear it more often.

One of his first public comments on reacquiring the company was: “I don’t think we’re doing enough on social media.”

He stressed that the government is not in the business of forcing older Australians to keep working. “It’s about giving them the choice if they want to keep working. It’s about providing pathways for older Australians to either continue using their skills and experience, or change tack altogether and seize new opportunities,” he continued.

COTA Australia chief executive Ian Yates agreed that Australia must start thinking of an ageing population as an asset rather than a burden.

“Older Australians have a wealth of experience and knowledge which until now has not been harnessed nearly as effectively as it could have been,” Yates said.

At the conference, Morrison also outlined the federal budget’s More Choices for a Longer Life package.

Yates said the package seeks to reframe ageing and aged care in a positive way.

One measure COTA was particularly excited about was $17.7 million over four years from 2018–19 to promote entrepreneurship and new business opportunities and mentoring for mature age people.

“Extending the business entrepreneurship program to include older workers is a crucial step in ensuring older Australians are equipped with the skills and resources to thrive in the new economy and realise the until now under-recognised potential of our older workforce,” Yates said, adding the move will also send a message to the Australian community that ageing is not a burden but a time of opportunity and growth for individuals and the economy.

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