Submission to National Commission of Audit

Australia’s population is ageing and this will accelerate as the baby boomers move into older age. In 2011 there were 3 million people over the age of 65, making up around 14 per cent of the population and this figure will rise to over 8 million in 2050 or 25 per cent of the population. This demographic change is due in part to the ageing of the large baby boomer cohort and in part due to increases in longevity with life expectancy at birth and at age 65 both increasing significantly.

This poses significant challenges for Australia in terms of whether current social and economic systems and settings are meeting the needs of older people and capitalising on the opportunities of an ageing population into the future. COTA believes that rather than thinking an older population means less people contributing to our society and more people being a drain on Australia’s resources, we should look at there being more people with the potential to contribute by working, volunteering, caring, investing their savings and consuming goods and services – providing the appropriate policy settings are in place to facilitate and create incentives for this, not discourage it.

To harness that potential Australia needs to start preparing now and put in place an overarching national action plan that will deliver on a long term vision for ageing. This needs to be a whole of government plan that looks at all aspects of people’s lives including employment, health, income support, aged care, housing, education and training. Whilst it is not within the Commission’s terms of reference to develop such a plan, we would urge the Commission to recommend that such a long term plan be developed as a priority.

We also encourage the Commission to look at all of the recommendations it makes to ensure they will have a positive impact on Australia’s preparedness to address the challenge of ageing. The recommendations will need to address the issues of sustainability of service provision and funding, taking into account both pressures on expenditure and possible changes in revenue collection.

This submission focuses on policies and programs which are specifically targeted at older people. Older people are also users of broad non-age specific programs e.g. Medicare. Where we have commented on those we have used examples that show the impact on older people, but many of these are equally applicable to other groups. There appears to be an increasing level of concern in Australia around intergenerational equity with concerns that government expenditures are skewed towards older Australians at the expense of the generations coming behind them. The whole issue of intergenerational transfers needs closer examination and an analysis of the possible impact in that regard of government decisions for both expenditure and revenue.