Opening of Retirement Income Policy and Intergenerational Equity Conference

  • John Carter
Senior Citizens

Good evening ladies and gentlemen.

I would like to thank Jonathan Boston from the Institute of Policy Studies and Retirement Commissioner Diana Crossan for the invitation to speak to you at this conference on Retirement Income Policy and Intergenerational Equity.

I would also like to acknowledge and welcome the two keynote speakers who have travelled to be here, Professor Kent Weaver from Washington DC and Professor Peter Whiteford from New South Wales.

When I see Rolling Stones vocalist Mick Jagger still strutting across the stage aged 67, he epitomises a generation taking the world in a new direction as they age.

I am sure with that image, you can all think of someone who defies our traditional view of what might be "age appropriate".

Not so long ago, we thought about a person retiring from the work force in their 60s to put their feet up for a few good years before "retiring permanently".

For the rush of baby boomers - the generation born between 1946 and 1965 - about to start turning 65 from next year, the "slippers, pipe, reclining chair" scenario couldn't be further from reality.

We are living longer more active lives and we are healthier than ever before. In living rooms and garages around the world there are Mick Jagger fans, of a similar vintage to Jagger, still playing air guitar and feeling like they are 25.

The baby boomers have re-written the rules throughout their lives, so why should their older years be any different?

Of course I'm a lot younger, at 60, but I am also fit and active. I still play rugby and I want to one day in the future be playing on the same field as my son and my grandson.

I am a 20-year-old in a 60-year-old body and it has to keep up!

Like many other countries that have enjoyed relatively settled health, social and economic conditions since the 1950s, New Zealand has an ageing population. You, in this room, will be instrumental in giving advice on how to manage this.

I don't subscribe to the view of our senior citizens as an economic burden. That is certainly not the view of this Government.

I want to talk about the opportunities that are coming with, and for, the almost 1 million baby boomers in New Zealand who will start turning 65 from next year.

It is interesting that you have Professor Kent Weaver from Georgetown University here as a keynote speaker.

In the US, huge amounts of time and money are being spent on the market for ageing well, as well as on marketing to the well-aged. They are those who want to travel, have active leisure pursuits, who want to look good, who garden and cook and entertain, who want to date online, or who have maybe fronted a rock band since the 1960s and still want to look like a rock star.

A whole new language is emerging among groups who are "turning silver into gold". Older people who set up businesses later in life to market to their peers are termed olderpreneurs, rather than entrepreneurs.

Most importantly, a shift in thinking is occurring. There is a realisation of the economic potential of older people.

Of course the government is aware of population projections and the fact that population ageing is important fiscally.

But compared to the rest of the OECD, New Zealand probably has one of the most sustainable pension systems in the world.

This government has given a commitment to maintaining Superannuation payments at 66 per cent of the after-tax average wage, from the age of 65.

What will enable the government to keep paying Superannuation into the future, despite an ageing population, is a healthy, growing economy, with a budget in surplus and low government debt.

That is why this government's focus has squarely been on limiting the effects of the global recession, putting in place measures to grow the economy in the future, and getting the government's finances into a sound position.

As our demographics change, older people's interests will increasingly be the interests of the country.

How we manage this unprecedented shift in age demographics requires thinking outside the square. 

This ties in very much with two of my key priorities as Minister for Senior Citizens:

  • Encouraging employment of mature workers; and
  • Promoting positive attitudes about ageing.

Baby boomers will be healthier, better educated and have more spending power than any other generation reaching 65 in New Zealand's history.

They may choose to stay in paid work, or contribute in other ways. Our contribution and value to society doesn't end when we stop work.

But choosing to continue working beyond 65 provides for a larger income, is linked to a greater sense of wellbeing and keeps people connected socially.

New Zealand has one of the highest labour participation rates for older people among OECD countries. This makes for a more productive economy; a more varied and skilled workforce; and most of all, it makes for a more open-minded and inclusive society.

By viewing our ageing population in a positive light, we can see they will continue to contribute to the economy - as tax-paying workers, as community volunteers, as teachers and mentors, and as consumers.

The government believes our citizens 65 and over deserve recognition for their contribution so far and that is why we have New Zealand Superannuation.

The government also believes in letting people take responsibility for their own lives. So how they plan for their retirement, or how long they want to stay in paid employment, or if they want to combine the two, is up to them individually.

Of course, how those retirement years shape up, how well we as a nation save, the challenges we rise to and the choices we make are of interest to you all when looking at retirement income policy.

We need to stop thinking that today's youth won't have an "equitable" retirement to say, their grandparents. We really don't know what retirement will be like for them, or even if the term "retirement" will be used 50 years from now. And we should think about what "equitable" means. Surely being alive and healthy and having a good time holds some "equity"?

Our ageing population is a challenge but the best and most creative thinking comes in the most challenging times.

I hope you have a productive conference and will be creative in your thinking. It will all contribute to the Retirement Commissioner's three-yearly review of retirement income policies.

I now have great pleasure in introducing Professor Kent Weaver, Professor of Public Policy and Government from Georgetown University in Washington DC.

It has been 10 years since Kent was last here and it is great to have him back. I'm sure you are all aware of his interesting work and are keen to hear him speak. Over to you Kent.