Wednesday Forum

  • David Carter
Senior Citizens

Celebrating Age Centre, Hamilton

Good morning Mayor of Hamilton City Russ Rimmington, Jose Barnes, manager of the Celebrating Age Centre, (to insert - name of national television personality?), and ladies and gentlemen.

It is a real pleasure for me to be with you today as you recognise International Year of Older Persons with this forum.

Firstly let me say that your Celebrating Age Centre is an excellent initiative, and one that I am sure is well appreciated by the older members of the Hamilton community.

I understand Age Concern, your local Senior Citizens Association and Grey Power all have offices in this facility.

These three organisations I am told, regularly host activities and events at the centre for the older people of Hamilton and those from surrounding districts.

Many other cities and towns would be proud to boast a centre dedicated to senior citizens and a celebration of age.

I would like to congratulate the Hamilton City Council for their foresight in providing this facility.

You have given the older people of this region a focus for their activities and efforts, and I am confident you have been rewarded with an older population that is more connected with the rest of your community.

Since being appointed Senior Citizens Minister last September, I have had the very pleasurable job of meeting with groups like yourselves on a regular basis to learn more about how our older generation is faring.

I have been amazed, at times humbled, by the strengths and values our older generation is exhibiting.

In communities around New Zealand, older people are the driving force behind many voluntary groups, they are providing the glue that is helping to keep many families together, and they are strong advocates for the weak, the vulnerable and the sick.

I have felt honoured to be the Government representative to liaise with our older community during my first six months as a Minister.

This year is a very special year for all of us. The United Nation's International Year of Older Persons.

In countries around the world, and in communities around New Zealand, International Year of Older Persons provides us with a rare opportunity to truly recognise and celebrate our older population.

The theme of the year is "Towards A Society For all ages."

But how do we get there?

Too often today, older people are ignored in our culture which places an overwhelming emphasis on the values of our young people.

There's no escaping youth culture.

Whether it be music videos on TV, the fashion in our shops or the growing dominance of the Internet, we're bombarded daily with what our young think, feel and want.

But what about our older generation?

How often do we hear what they're feeling, what directions they'd like to see the country head in and what their dreams and aspirations are?

Not often.

That's why I believe it's more important than ever that we make the most of this year.

It's not often we get an International Year solely dedicated to recognising the older person, and this year is an opportune time for all of us to start celebrating the worth of our older members.

I'd like to run through some of the exciting events New Zealand has planned over the next few months to celebrate International Year of Older Persons.

This month the Human Rights Commission, with help from my advisors at the Senior Citizens Unit, hosted two conferences in Auckland and Wellington to educate employers about the law change which took effect last month banning age-discrimination in the workplace.

The amendment to the Human Rights Act banished the prospect of employers being able to enforce compulsory retirement at age 65.

Just as significantly, employers can now no longer discriminate against staff on the basis of their age.

This is a profound change which is likely to alter the way New Zealanders think about mature workers, and the conferences helped to educate the business community about the law change and their new responsibilities.

The theme this month was "Valuing the contributions of older people" and what better place to start than with the workforce?

In May, a second series of events is planned hinging around the United Nation's International Day of the Family on May 15.

The theme for May is "Valuing the relationships between young and old" and intergenerational activities will come to the fore.

A series of programmes will be run in schools nation-wide encouraging interactions between the very young and the very old.

Getting our children to play, talk and learn from their grandparents can only be a positive thing for New Zealand.

I'm looking forward to visiting some of the programmes myself during the month of May.

The final key date for the year is the 1st of October, International Day of Older Persons.

My advisors in the Senior Citizens Unit tell me a number of communities have already planned celebrations and many others are on the drawing board.

This date will become a pivotal point in celebrating the International Year with activities including displays, galas, radio programmes and festivals planned to highlight the value of older people.

Close to a quarter of a million dollars has been allocated by Government for these community celebrations, and I was delighted to announce in January, the 24 recipients of this funding.

Communities from Kaeo and Whangarei in the north, to Alexandra and Dunedin in the south received funding, so we can look forward to a nation-wide feast of older celebrations.

One of the unique concepts that has grabbed my attention is Invercargill's plan to plant a golden mile of daffodils to mark the year, along the state highway leading into Invercargill.

Young and old people from the city are planning to work together planting this mile of daffodils-and that sums up the year for me in a nutshell!

Harmony between our generations!

But today we are here to talk about one of the more serious concerns older people have; namely concerns about personal safety and how you can prevent becoming a victim of crime.

This forum will help you become more informed about crime prevention initiatives, and some of the positive choices you can take to reinforce your personal safety in the home and on the street.

Over the last few weeks Government has announced seven new steps that will contribute to increasing security for all New Zealanders.

These steps include:

Tougher Jail Sentences For Home Invasion:
Government is planning to change the law to increase sentences for crimes associated with home invasion, and we intend to increase the sentencing options available for violent crime.
New Police Enforcement Squads:
We have just announced almost 100 new police for eight squads focusing on crime hotspots, in particular targeting violence and property crime.
Tighter Bail Laws:
Planned law changes will make it much harder for prisoners who re-offend on bail to be granted continuing bail.
Monitoring Prisoner's Telephone Calls:
We intend to monitor prisoner's calls to check they are not using new technology to contact unauthorised people.
New Youth Prisons:
Government intends to build seven new youth prisons, to separate young inmates from adult prisoners. The first unit, for 17 young inmates, will open in Hawkes Bay this year.
And finally we are putting more money into rehabilitation programmes for Maori, seeking to change the lifestyles of offenders.
We have also allocated extra funding for the successful Maori warden's scheme, which helps get young Maori off the streets and away from a life of crime.
So Government is listening to your concerns, and more importantly, we are acting by toughening up the legislation we have to ensure the safety of our communities.

It is now in your hands today to absorb all you can.

I congratulate Safer Hamilton, Hamilton's City Council, and the three agencies, Grey Power, Age Concern and Hamilton's Senior Citizens Association for their initiative in organising this forum.

Thank you all again for inviting me here today.