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Ageism - alive and well and living in Australia

By Graham Cooke - posted Thursday, 13 May 2010

Earlier this year, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd released the 2010 Intergenerational Report with dire warnings about Australia’s ageing population.

“As the percentage of the population in the workforce shrinks, we simply cannot afford to waste the potential of older Australians,” he said.

“Australia has a lower rate of mature-age workforce participation than the United States, United Kingdom, Canada and New Zealand - there is considerable room for improvement.


“If we can remove obstacles for older Australians to work, not only do we improve their quality of life but also we strengthen the economy.

“The choice for older Australians to stay in or leave the workforce should be just that - a choice, not something forced on them by prejudice or bad policy.”

Fine words, but Australian employers - aren’t listening.

The latest Australian Bureau of Statistics figures show that older workers are more likely to be under-employed, settling for part-time or casual roles. An astonishing 48 per cent of those aged 45 to 54, and 45 per cent of those aged 55 and over had less work than they wanted over the previous year.

A despairing National Seniors Chief Executive, Michael O’Neill says in the latest edition of HR Monthly, that older workers are “simply not in the mindset” of human resources managers.

Prejudice against older workers is well entrenched. When the Minister for Ageing, Justine Elliot, appointed well-known actress and political activist Noeline Brown as Australia’s first Ambassador for Ageing in 2008, her brief was to promote positive ageing among the country’s seniors.


In fact a considerable amount of her work has involved battling the myths about older workers: that they are unproductive; that they suffer from more health problems than their younger counterparts; they are less flexible; less reliable; don’t fit in.

“Ageism is just about the last ‘ism’ in our society that remains to be broken down,” Brown says.

“Try to deny a person employment on the basis of race or gender and there are grounds for official complaint.

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About the Author

Graham Cooke has been a journalist for more than four decades, having lived in England, Northern Ireland, New Zealand and Australia, for a lengthy period covering the diplomatic round for The Canberra Times.

He has travelled to and reported on events in more than 20 countries, including an extended stay in the Middle East. Based in Canberra, where he obtains casual employment as a speech writer in the Australian Public Service, he continues to find occasional assignments overseas, supporting the coverage of international news organisations.

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