ADJOURNMENT;National Seniors Week – 27 Oct 2009

I rise tonight to speak on National Seniors Week and specifically on the importance of our senior citizens in the community. National Seniors Week is a chance for our seniors to enjoy themselves, to find new hobbies and to learn new skills. It is an opportunity for them to join together to share their experiences and meet different people. For the younger people in the community, it is a great time to show elderly parents, grandparents, neighbours and friends that they really appreciate them.

This year I celebrated National Seniors Week in a couple of ways. Firstly, I held an afternoon tea in my office, to which local seniors from the Kingborough Bowls Club were invited. It was an opportunity for the bowling comrades to catch up away from the green and a good way for my staff and me to get to know more members of the community. A very enjoyable afternoon was had by all. There was a lot of laughter and jocularity, but there was also a serious side to the event and that was the opportunity it gave me to thank those members of the community that attended for the hard work that they put into the community.

I also marked the occasion by attending an afternoon tea hosted by the Huon Valley Council. This event was also attended by the Deputy Premier of Tasmania, Lara Giddings, and the state member for Franklin, Daniel Hume, and included entertainment by Victorian entertainer of the year Rodney Vincent. Mr Vincent, who was part of In Melbourne Tonight with Bert Newton and Graham Kennedy, told jokes and stories and sang a mixture of songs. Some of these were older but others were quite well-known more modern tunes. People joined in and sang along. There were over a hundred people in attendance. I put on the record my thanks to the Huon Valley Council for hosting this event and for bringing so many members of the community together. The Huon Valley is in a regional area of southern Tasmania, so all those people appreciated being brought together.

In my home state of Tasmania, the theme for National Seniors Week this year was ‘A colourful week to be grey’ and it was officially held between 1 and 7 October. The 2006 census registered 97,051 people in Tasmania who were 60 years of age or older. That amounted to a bit over 20 per cent of the state’s population, and I imagine that that figure has increased quite significantly since then. Across Tasmania, there were over 360 events listed for the week and there was something for everyone to participate in. Just some of the events that seniors could partake of included taking a line dancing class, learning about powers of attorney, taking a river cruise, learning how to use a computer, going for a swim, attending a driving seminar and watching a movie. Many events were free, while others were available for a substantially reduced entry fee. I thank all the sponsors of Seniors Week in Tasmania and the Tasmanian government for their support and input into Seniors Week in Tasmania. As I said, I also thank the many and varied organisations that facilitated the event for those seniors.

It is important to note that senior citizens have contributed much to Australia over the course of their lives, and that they are still contributing every day. They have worked hard and paid taxes. They have served the nation at war. They have raised children and in some cases have raised their grandchildren, and they continue to do so. Many have been foster parents. They have made laws in our parliaments and saved lives in our hospitals. They have helped other elderly people who are not as healthy as they are. Many are still active as volunteers, and I note here my own parents, who are in their 80s and who still volunteer two or three days a week in community organisations and an aged-care facility. They are involved in many clubs, choirs and community organisations. I nearly have to make an appointment to catch up with them when I am home. Seniors have done all these things, and continue to do so, because they want to help others and because they know they have something to offer the broader community. And our seniors certainly do have much to offer younger people. We can all learn a great deal from those who have more life experience than we do. While searching on the internet, I found a quote by Andy Rooney. He said, ‘The best classroom in the world is at the feet of an elderly person.’ How true that is.

Not only can we learn from the more senior members of our community, we should also be inspired by them. For example, in Tasmania we are undergoing local government elections and there is actually someone 81 years of age, an ex-serviceman, standing at this month’s Waratah-Wynyard local government elections. Then we had the World Masters Games in Sydney. The games had a shot-putter who was 100, a sprinter who was 90 and a swimmer who was missing a leg from a shark attack over three decades ago. Canadian Olga Kotelko, aged 90, won both the 100 metre sprint and the shot-put in her age group. Her shot-put was a world record. Olga proudly stated, ‘There was no-one else my age, but it felt really good and I’m quite pleased.’ Australian competitor Carl Herbert, who is 69, decided to walk from Gympie to Sydney as a warm-up for his events. That is 1,100 kilometres. What an inspiring group of people.

Our seniors deserve to be treated with respect and dignity. They often lose much of what they took for granted when they were younger. Their hearing might fade, their vision may deteriorate and they may walk slower or suffer from Alzheimer’s, dementia or other health problems. Or, indeed, they may be very physically fit and healthy but they may struggle adapting to life once they retire from the workforce. Equally, they may continue to throw themselves into life at full speed by taking up new hobbies or volunteer work. Seniors may have family to help them but sometimes they are completely on their own. Seniors, like any other group, should not be pigeonholed. They are all individuals and should be treated as such. So, what can be done to help the seniors around us? It might just be that you say hello to an elderly person at the letterbox as you are walking down the street. A quick word and a smile just might make their day. You might offer to help around the house or in the garden. Maybe they do not drive any more and need someone to take them to the doctor. It does not have to be a huge gesture. Like most people, they will appreciate whatever you do for them.

We all know that the Rudd government believe in a socially inclusive community and values equally all sectors of the community. As part of this belief, the government are doing everything possible to help the aged community. Firstly, we have recognised the work of the former Howard government in establishing the position of Minister for Ageing. We kept this ministry because it is essential to ensure that our senior citizens get the attention they deserve. We have increased the pension for all categories. This means that it is not only age pensioners who are receiving more. It means people who are seniors, but not yet old enough for the age pension, are getting an increase as part of whichever pension they are on. We have introduced the work bonus for age pensioners who have some form of income. We have introduced the pension supplement, which consists of a variety of payments that were previously paid in quarterly instalments. The pension supplement includes the telephone, utilities and pharmaceutical allowances and the GST supplement and is paid fortnightly. This will obviously help people with their budgeting.

Care of our seniors is an area of great importance and, like all areas of the health system, the aged-care sector is being considered as part of the National Health and Hospital Reform Commission. The Minister for Ageing, the Hon. Justine Elliot, states:

It is important that the health, hospitals and aged care systems work together to meet the care needs of older Australians in an affordable, accessible and sustainable way …

With more than 900,000 older Australians either in residential care or receiving help in their own home, it is essential we have the most efficient and effective system possible. The Rudd government is investing $19 million in an aged-care training package that is designed to create up to 4,600 new places in the aged- and community-care sectors. And, with Australians now having the longest life expectancy in the English-speaking world, we are responding to the challenges of our nation’s ageing population. In my home state of Tasmania, the Bartlett government also recognises the need to give seniors as much support as possible. The state government continues to fund pensioner discounts as part of the new water and sewerage billing process that is underway there.

Our senior citizens are an important part of our life. They have contributed much to our society and we must always remember that. National Seniors Week, as I said, was a chance for the older members of the community to come together, celebrate their lives—(Time expired)