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Public services need to be repurposed to meet our changing needs

We are living longer – with Australians born in this decade now expected to live until the age of 83.

National figures show we have one of the highest life expectancies in the world, with men expected to live to the age of 81 – an increase from 68 in 1970. Women are expected to live until the age of 85 – an increase from 74.5 for the same period.

This increased life expectancy brings with it a raft of considerations. Some of us are worrying about whether we can afford to die – taking out funeral insurance to ensure our loved ones have enough money to bury us. But, as consumer rights advocates have warned, these policies are often a junk product of little value to anyone who does not die within five years of taking them out. As the statistics show, this is becoming increasingly less likely.

University of Melbourne demographer Peter McDonald expects the proportion of Australians aged 65 and older to increase from about 17 per cent to 23 per cent by 2061 with migration – 31 per cent without migration.

This demographic shift is affecting retirement. As we’ve reported, KPMG analysis using Bureau of Statistics labour force and census data shows that retirement ages have increased at a faster rate in Sydney than other capital cities since the pandemic. Over the past 20 years, the expected retirement age in Sydney has risen by 3.4 years for women and by three years for men. Nationally, the expected retirement age for men was 66.2 last year, the highest since 1972. For women, it was 64.8, the highest since 1971.


Retirement planning is also affected by increased life expectancy. The Morrison government’s decision to give Australians access to superannuation in 2020 during the height of the COVID pandemic struck a fair balance between people facing hardship and protecting the integrity of one of the economy’s major investment sources. But, as a study of the scheme by researchers from the Australian National University and Harvard found, for many the short-term fix also meant a 51 per cent cut to their super balance on average. For those who withdrew the full $20,000 allowed, the cost to their super savings was estimated to be $120,000 in today’s dollars.

Meanwhile, the Reserve Bank tells us that skyrocketing rents and ultra-low vacancy rates will remain at crisis levels, putting further pressure on federal and state governments to address the need for more affordable housing across demographic groups. The Reserve Bank found several issues, including sluggish home construction and investment, and continued high demand for properties, would continue to push up rents and reduce access.

Age differences between state electorates is also widening, adding to political and policy pressures on governments to meet changing demographic needs. As we’ve reported, Millennials, born between 1981 and 1996, are now the biggest voter group in suburbs that ring Sydney Harbour and stretch into the city’s west and south-west. The proportion of Millennials has grown from 17.9 per cent to 28 per cent of the voting age population since 2011 and their priorities include housing affordability, education, public transport and childcare.

Access to health and aged care services are a higher priority for areas including Bega, Myall Lakes, Port Macquarie, Port Stephens and the South Coast, which have a much higher proportion of older people – including a high proportion with a long-term health condition.

In a rapidly changing economic and social environment, the federal government and new state government need to consider whether their policies are fit for purpose to address these changing demographic needs. The public health system is under growing pressure to meet the increasingly complex needs of older people who are living longer and residing in more remote areas. With specialist health services concentrated in the city, where a growing proportion of Millennials live and struggle with different needs, the service mismatch will become increasingly stark.

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