Mr RAMSEY (Grey) (11:45): I thank the member for Mayo for bringing this important issue forward. Certainly I would have to say in the last six or 12 months as I’ve travelled around my electorate the No. 1 issue when I walk into a business has been, ‘We can’t get enough workers.’ It’s repeated whether it’s in hospitality, the aged-care sector, agriculture, aquaculture, mining or local mechanic shops—it’s right across the board—’We can’t get enough workers.’ While I know the issue is similar in the cities, I don’t think it’s to the same extent as it is in regional areas, because we know that we are always struggling to attract people to come and live in regional areas, which I find fairly insulting. It upsets me, but I can’t do all that much about it, I have to say.
The suggestion that age pensioners and disability pensioners should be allowed to earn more before they hit the threshold where their pension starts to reduce, I think, is a very solid one. It’s one that has been backed by Peter Dutton, the Leader of the Opposition, calling for a doubling. I think we are sitting at rates of $336 a fortnight at the moment for double pensioners and $190 for singles.
There are a plethora of schemes in place to assist people into the workforce. I have a printed list here. There are over 50 different schemes in place to assist people into the workforce—from relocation to re-education and a whole host of things. I’m not saying any of those programs are particularly failing, even though I don’t think it hurts to ask the question of whether they are succeeding. But there is a reality in this debate at the moment—the fact that we have hit 3.5 per cent unemployment across Australia. If anyone is being brutally honest, that last three per cent is going to be fairly difficult to get into the workforce for a lot of reasons. I won’t go down that pathway at the moment, but the point being that, while these assistance schemes all sit there ready to help and helping where they can, in fact that last three or 3.5 per cent to go into the workforce will be people that don’t want to shift, people that have poor skills, poor education, poor health and a whole host of other reasons why they don’t want to move into the workforce.
Pensioners are just the perfect group to be targeting. I will just make the point that there is not a retirement age in Australia. There is no retirement age. What there is is an eligibility for the age pension, which is at the age of 67 at the moment. So no-one should feel as they approach 67—and I am not all that far away from it, I must say—that they need to get out of the workforce. In fact, I say to many people, ‘Consider what it’s going to be like doing nothing for maybe the next 40 years, because the medical health system’s pretty good.’ How long one’s piece of string is comes into contention when one is considering retirement. There are a lot of jobs where you can back off and become partially employed, but there are a lot of jobs where you can’t. I might point out that being a federal politician is probably one of them. I really encourage people to keep some kind of work measure in their lives.
While some people at that age of 67, to be brutal, are pretty clapped out, there are a lot who are not. I have a friend who has started up a gardening service. I think he’s 68. He’s one of the most energetic people you are likely to meet. He doesn’t really want to work for half rates. He says to me: ‘Can’t you lift the threshold? Can’t you do something about it, particularly at this time when Australia is so desperately short of workers?’ Well, I couldn’t agree with him more. Well done, Cliff.
I do back this call from the member for Mayo and I do back the call from Peter Dutton, the Leader of the Opposition, to lift that threshold. The sooner the better. I know it comes at a cost. The Treasurer at the moment is talking about the threats to the budget. I understand that. I can also say that not filling those jobs across Australia at the moment comes at a far greater cost than the $160 million that is mentioned in the documentation I have here. Not being able to fill jobs, businesses not being able to expand when there are opportunities in the market, not being able to replace people who are wanting to retire for good reason, and not being able to replace businesses that have bad effects from COVID at the moment are really costing the community dearly. We should get on with the job.