Protecting our Retirees

MS BIRD (CUNNINGHAM) (11:14): I thank the member for Lalor for putting this very important motion before the chamber and I reflect that, like both the member for Lalor and the member for Groom, when the Four Corners program recently aired I also had a lot of locals contacting me very distressed by what were quite shocking and appalling expose in that particular program.

It reflects the fact, I believe, that the community standard is very clearly one that says our older Australians deserve our best protection and respect, that they are entitled to a dignified and quality retirement life. When there are cases where people purposefully and with complete disrespect seek to treat them simply as a cash cow and to take advantage of them—and, as the member for Lalor said, that increasingly is the case, as we see superannuation become a more established form of retirement funding of lifestyle—we need to do something about it. In particular, the issues that were exposed around the nature of these contracts were very concerning. As the member for Lalor and the member for Groom indicated, this is a space where federal governments have an important role to play. Issues such as the very high exit fees, particularly where there is lack of understanding about exactly what those fees are, how they have been accrued and the extraordinary processes that people have to go through in order to exit these retirement villages are of real concern.

I was very moved by the member for Lalor's example of the couple in her electorate. You can just picture imagines of your own family, where there has been a major health problem—quadruple bypass heart surgery is a classic example—and then there is all the stress not only of the circumstances but also of having it dragged out over a year because of obstinacy and the difficulty in dealing with these sorts of contracts. It is just completely unacceptable. Any exploitation of this nature of older Australians is an unacceptable situation and we should be taking action on it.

It is good to see the member for Groom reflect the fact that it should not be an issue of contention in this place. I think we would all see that action on these issues needs to occur. Indeed, Labor is ready to partner with the government to make sure that older Australians can retire with dignity and security not only in their living circumstances—going to some of the issues that are under state control around the regulation of these sorts of villages—but also in their financial arrangements and the issues we can have a say on around contracts and financial matters.

It is a really important to see success at the COAG process and to find some nationally consistent legislations and protections, particularly consumer protections in this space. Sadly, as our society becomes more complex, we are increasingly seeing that there are people who will look for an opportunity to exploit the funding that is available to improve people's lives for their own benefit and profit. I reflect, for example, on the scandals we have had over recent years around the vocational education sector. The government had the right intentions in providing funding to people to better themselves through education, but we saw terrible scandals where people were using that opportunity to exploit people. To me, this is a very similar thing. I've had a number of concerns raised with me locally about people's ageing relatives not only in the area of retirement villages. Trying to organise care for elderly parents has become so complex and difficult around aged-care package allocations. This is one issue I regularly come up against.

We need to make sure we get these systems working effectively for families and for our elderly so that they do have a life not only of dignity and respect and financial security but also of quality, so they can actually enjoy their retirement years and have some real benefit out of what should be a great Australian retirement system. (Time expired)

Watch my speech here.