Bill's Transcripts

ABC News 24 interview with Lyndal Curtis

LYNDAL CURTIS: Mr Shorten, welcome to News 24.

BILL SHORTEN: Good afternoon.

LYNDAL CURTIS: The Age Discrimination Commissioner has called for an overhaul of laws that make it harder for older workers, including compensation schemes that have a cut-off for income replacement and age limit for income replacement. Do you think that those sorts of changes should be made?

BILL SHORTEN: Yes I do. I'm the Minister for Insurance Services and for Workplace Relations and Employment. And it seems to me that as Australians' life expectancy increases, as the pension age is going up, as Australians are healthier and working longer, it is ridiculous that we still have age cut-offs with some of our insurance companies and some of our laws, which mean that people are effectively discriminated against once they pass the age of fifty-five, sixty or sixty-five. Definitely time to lift the standards.

LYNDAL CURTIS: Because it's your government's policy to raise the pension age whilst it's in increments over a long period of time and won't be raised to sixty-seven until 2023. Is it time to look across the board and get rid of any discrimination that might hinder the ability of older workers to continue to work?

BILL SHORTEN: Well the proposition that exists in discrimination law is that if there's actuarial evidence that providing a certain benefit to someone shouldn’t be done because of health reasons or greater health risk, I get that. But what I don’t accept is that when someone - the clock ticks over and someone turns sixty-six, that they shouldn’t therefore lose income protection insurance, that they shouldn’t therefore lose workers compensation.

We're the only government in Australian history who's abolished the age discrimination against people receiving superannuation. Despite Liberal opposition, we passed a law that said that now you can receive super as an employee at any age, whereas it used to stop at seventy. I've certainly spoken with the insurance industry about income protection insurance.

I think the state governments have got to measure up in terms of our workers compensation. I don’t accept the proposition that when someone's sixty-seven, sixty-eight or sixty-six that automatically they should be deemed to be a bigger health risk than someone who's forty-four, forty-five, forty-six. I mean that just assumes that your age is the only ingredient in your health. We know that's not true. There's plenty of people who aren’t as healthy in their fifties, yet you've got marvellous people in their seventies who are remarkably fit.

LYNDAL CURTIS: The Age Discrimination Commissioner also talked about licensing restrictions, say for professional drivers. It would be harder, would it not, to change those given the health risks?

BILL SHORTEN: Oh no listen, I see people get behind the wheel of a car in their twenties who are more dangerous than people in their sixties or seventies; let's call it for what it is. I do accept at a certain point in life, I'm not unrealistic, it may be harder to drive at night or your capacities diminish. But this idea that we have an arbitrary age cut-off and after that somehow you're over the hill and you're not invited into the - into the living room of Australian society, that has to stop. Just unthinking, legalised grey discrimination needs to stop.

LYNDAL CURTIS: Given this will involve negotiating with the states and the territories, because many of these laws are state and territory laws, will it take some time to either remove the limits or to harmonise laws?

BILL SHORTEN: Oh some states are already ahead of us in terms of removing some of the age caps. So some states are already doing exactly what we are talking about. I do accept that you've got to negotiate. I accept, also, that some activities are probably not appropriate for people of a certain age. But let's look at the exception and reverse the onus.

Let's have a system which says why I shouldn’t give you the benefit of the same treatment, rather than arbitrarily at a certain age saying to older people, you prove to us you're still a functioning human being with capacities. We need to reverse the onus.

Now this report's started a debate. Susan Ryan's doing a great job. For me, the issue about dealing with the states is I don’t - it's not the states that matter here, it's the people. What I'm interested in is the two million people who currently are over fifty-five and working. What I'm interested in is the people who discourage job seekers because an older person walks in, they've got wrinkles around their neck, they've got a lot of grey hair and all of a sudden the employer, in an eight second glance, can judge if this person's up to doing their job.

We know prejudice exists in Australia, what I'm interested in is not the debate with the states, people of goodwill can work these issues out. For me, what's important is what's in the best interests of older Australians, and to be honest, the rest of Australian society. There's only twenty-three million of us. We're the lucky people who share a whole continent to ourself. We can't afford the brain drain of telling millions of our fellow Australians that because your birthday was you know in - sometime in 1945, 1948, that's it.