Documents - Australian Human Rights Commission

Senator IAN MACDONALD (Queensland) (17:34): I also want to talk, unusually for me, about some of the positive work of the Australian Human Rights Commission. My normal inclination would be to follow my friend and colleague Senator Paterson, but today I do want to join with Senator Brown in congratulating former senator the Hon. Susan Ryan for her work in this area of barriers to employment for people with disability and older people in or remaining in the workforce. I guess before I start I should declare an interest because I am what some might call an older person wishing to remain in the workforce. I might come back to that later.

Susan Ryan did respond to a referral by Senator Brandis to look into this very vexed question, and the inquiry was known as the 'Willing to Work' inquiry. Susan Ryan and the commission produced a quite formidable report, having undertaken an enormous body of work in the last year or more. As Senator Brown said, there were 120 consultations around every capital city and in many regional areas and over 1,000 people contributed to this inquiry. Some 340-odd written submissions were received as well. As a result of all of that work, the commission and Susan Ryan have produced a very significant report.

Amongst the findings of the report, we learn that people aged 55 years and older, although making up roughly a quarter of the population, represent only 16 per cent of the workforce. We learn that 83.2 per cent of people without a disability participate in the workforce, but only 53.4 per cent of people with are participating in the labour force. We also learn, I am sorry to say, some tales of discrimination—27 per cent of people over the age of 50 reported experiencing discrimination in the workplace on account of their age.

I never complain about my lot in life. Nobody forces me to be here and I am okay, but I just make the point that even in this august body every year that I stay in parliament costs me in cash terms $40,000.

An honourable senator interjecting

Senator IAN MACDONALD: I am not after sympathy, but it is a fact that is not well known. People talk about politicians' superannuation. I contribute about $10,000 or $11,000 every year towards my superannuation, but every year I stay here the capital sum of my superannuation reduces by five per cent in cash.

Senator Pratt interjecting

Senator IAN MACDONALD: I am not after your sympathy, Senator Pratt. I am simply saying that here in this parliament, this body and this government that is having inquiries into discrimination against people who want to remain in the workforce, in my case—and I am sure it would happen to others as well—here is a positive discrimination if you want to stay in the workforce over the age of 65, as I am. I am well over that. Once you reach 65 in this place, that is what happens to you. How come the government and this parliament support that sort of proposal while at the same time having Susan Ryan deal with discrimination of those who are older but who want to work? So I appreciate Susan Ryan looking into this. As I say, I am not making a complaint for myself. I will get by; I will be fine. But it is an interesting fact that discrimination against older people occurs even in this building and in this government.

I know that there are many in the Labor Party that would say that they agree with discrimination in this case because they would like to see me go! They would have liked to have seen me go five years ago. But I will be here for another 10 years or so yet, unlike Senator Cameron, who is bailing out. He should have resigned already! But I will be here for a long, long time yet. The money does not worry me, but the discrimination against older people does, and the government should look at it. (Time expired)

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