Australia's plan to raise pension age to 70 criticized as unfair for workers in tough jobs

CANBERRA, Australia – The Australian government’s plan to raise the state pension age to 70 has been criticized as unfair for those in physically demanding jobs, the poor and indigenous people.

Increasing the pension eligibility age to 70 by 2035 was one of the measures in a budget announced Tuesday to help Australia cope with the costs of an aging population.

The opposition Labor Party has vowed to oppose the change in Parliament. The current pension age is 65.

“I don’t think it’s something that passes the sensible test,” opposition treasury spokesman Chris Bowen said Wednesday.

The pension age in Australia has been 65 since 1908. Labor, while in government, had in 2009 decided the pension age would rise from 65 to 67 in 2023.

Bowen said no other wealthy country has suggested making its citizens work until they turn 70.

But Treasurer Joe Hockey argues that Australians should no longer be retiring at a pension age that was set when their life expectancy was 55 years. Average life expectancy in Australia is now 85.

Australian National University economist Peter Whiteford said the United Kingdom was moving toward a pension age of 68, while several countries were moving to 67 as life spans increase.

Whiteford said there were inequities in extending the eligibility age for the pension, including that poorer people and Aborigines were less likely to survive to 70 than more affluent Australians.

Charmaine Crowe, an advocate for retirees, described a higher pension age as a cruel and unfair measure that would condemn many to live in poverty.

“Our concern is for people who are in physically demanding jobs, they may be labourers or nurses. To ask them to slog it out for another three years is a cruel policy,” said Crewe, policy adviser for the Combined Pensioners and Superannuants Association.

With age discrimination favouring younger workers, many older people would have no choice but to survive for years on unemployment benefits, which are less than the age pension, Crewe said.

“We’re going to see a larger number of older people thrown into poverty, and we just don’t think that’s fair,” Crewe said.

Australia’s Age Discrimination Commissioner Susan Ryan said the government needed to provide more training for older workers to ensure that they had the same job opportunities as everyone else.