Advisory Panel on Realising the Economic Potential of Seniors

Submission in response to the discussion paper “Realising the Economic Potential of Senior Australians: Changing face of Society” by the Advisory Panel on Realising the Economic Potential of Senior Australians
(November 2011)

COTA welcomed the establishment of the Advisory Panel as an important signal that the Australian government may now be going to take a positive view of an ageing population that celebrates our success in increasing life expectancy and looks for ways to ensure older people are no longer marginalised but are able to maximise their inclusion in and contribution to our society.

COTA believes that the first priority for action is to have a broad based social marketing campaign to change attitudes across our community so that older people are seen and see themselves in more positive ways. Without action to effect significant attitudinal change it is our belief that any specific initiatives will have less chance of real long term success in optimising the contribution of older Australians to our community.

Our specific proposals are predicated on the assumption that the proposed campaign has been implemented.

COTA acknowledges the importance of older people not being left on the wrong side of the digital divide. We put forward a number of proposals to improve older people’s access to digital technology by making it more affordable and improving confidence in using such technology through training and ongoing support, so that older people can reap the benefits digital technology will undoubtedly bring.
It is clear to COTA that older people have a keen interest in climate change – they want to leave the world a better place for their children and grandchildren. Our first initiative is designed to build the capacity of older people to take a leadership role on climate change issues. We then go onto to suggest ways that older people’s desire to take some direct action to improve the environment can be supported, through initiatives such as land care groups and extension of the Green Corps program.
Workforce participation is often seen as the most visible way people can make an economic contribution to the community and it is clear that many older people want to continue to participate in the workforce. COTA is proposing an integrated approach, establishing an older workers advisory service that provides services to both potential employers as well as older workers, along with a package of targeted training support.

One of the key issues we need to look at as we celebrate an increase in life expectancy is how we ensure that we are extending years of healthy life. COTA identifies the need to ensure all our preventative health strategies are inclusive and where necessary provide more targeted messages for older people. There is also a set of proposals to increase older people’s physical activity as the evidence is clear that increased physical activity promotes better physical and mental health and enables people to participate more effectively in other spheres of life.

COTA’s proposals for enhancing volunteering opportunities acknowledge the importance of volunteering not only for the individual but also for the broader community and economy. We identify the barriers to volunteering and suggest ways to remove them. We put a special emphasis on peer education not just as a volunteering avenue but also as a proven communication tool that works for getting a variety of community messages out to older people.

It is clear that older people want to remain living in their local community for as long as possible and so we put forward a number of proposals that would enable this to happen. COTA calls for all new housing to be built to the Liveable Housing design standards and for more assistance for people to modify existing houses, if that is their choice. We also put forward proposals to improve the broader community space and improved transport planning and access, including greater emphasis on the needs of pedestrians.

COTA’s last set of proposals are about helping older people cope with life’s transitions. We concentrate on measures that would help build resilience and encourage people to plan ahead, acknowledging that many of the other proposals would also contribute to this goal. Much of what COTA and others are calling for is not new. What will make the difference is if we have a coordinated long term plan that links the various proposals to deliver a social environment in which older people are valued and most importantly value themselves.

In that respect we have called for the creation of a cabinet level ministry responsible for a whole of government approach to population ageing supported by a well resourced office within a senior department of government.