Old Liberal Thinking Betrays Australia’s Seniors

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Renewables could cut pensioners’ energy bills if the government had the ticker. Instead, Craig Kelly scapegoats them for the Liberals’ seniors policy failures, writes Tom Allen.

To summarise Craig Kelly’s latest prognostication on renewable energy into a three-word slogan that Liberals love so much: “Renewables kill seniors!”

This is, of course, 100% true. Honest. How could it not be coming from a veteran statesman like the member for Hughes, and chair of the backbench environment and energy committee? (No, I’m not joking).

To be fair, when Kelly let rip on ABC’s AM, he sugar-coated his dire warning as follows: “People will die!

On one, well, level, he’s right: people will, especially those at the end of their mortal coil. But on all other levels, Kelly is tilting at turbines. If this was a desperate attempt to scapegoat renewable energy for his government’s failure to deliver better outcomes for Australia’s seniors, it didn’t do much for his credibility.

Liberal and Federal Member for Hughes, Craig Kelly.
Liberal and Federal Member for Hughes, Craig Kelly.

If Mr Kelly genuinely cared about the welfare of seniors, renewables wouldn’t make his to-do list. What Mr Kelly failed to acknowledge is that Australia isn’t a great place to grow old. A third of pensioners live in poverty. It’s not solar panels that are to blame, it’s government policy. (In fact, you can tell he doesn’t really care about elderly Australians because he’s happy to exploit them with crackpot fantasy scaremongering rather than actually change policy to benefit them.)

In fact, solar panels on seniors’ roofs could save them millions. Imagine if the government had the ticker to rollout a scheme like this one nationally? There could be pensioners like June and Colin across the country who could be cosier and financially better off. This is the case in many other countries.

How does Australia’s senior care compare internationally? At the risk of exploding Kelly’s head, the countries with the best care for seniors are, almost without exception, also leaders in renewable energy. It’s almost as if good energy policy and good seniors policy are related or something.

It’s worth noting that, of Global AgeWatch Index’s 10 best countries in the world to be over 60 in – (1) Switzerland,  (2) Norway, (3) Sweden, (4) Germany, (5) Canada, (6) Netherlands, (7) Iceland, (8) Japan, (9) United States and (10) UK – most are extremely cold. Snowy, even. Unlike Australia, whose climate is barely temperate and mostly desert and tropical. (If you are to believe those bastard meteorologists.)

So just to ram this point home: of the 10 best countries to grow old in, most are

  • really cold
  • leaders in renewable energy
  • socialist

“We spend a lot on the elderly… It’s the one area of consensus in parliament. All parties agree that pensioners have contributed a lot to society, so now they should get a lot back.”

I reckon 99.9% of us would agree with this statement. Shame it wasn’t made by an Australian nor was it about Australia. The comment is from Kirsten Ketscher, professor of social security and welfare law at the University of Copenhagen.

(IMAGE: Eva Rinaldi, Flickr)
(IMAGE: Eva Rinaldi, Flickr)

Denmark, in stark contrast to Australia, is one of the best countries to grow old, where they spend huge amounts looking after their seniors. Coincidentally, Denmark is also a leader in renewable energy and while decarbonsing its economy it protects its elderly citizens from the costs of living.

Unlike Norway, Denmark and Switzerland, Kelly’s government has repeatedly cut funding to pensioners, including:

  • Ending the energy supplementpayment for pensioners. (How to pay for its restoration? Hmm, how about ending the multi-million dollar subsidies paid to the fossil fuel industry?)
  • In the 2016 Budget, “new residents of aged care facilities who keep their own family home and rent it out had that rental income included in the income test for the pension”.
  • In 2015, Joe Hockey made swinging cutsto the pension. It’s worth noting that this included hefty cuts to help for pensioners to pay their utility bills.

If Kelly’s own government had been more generous to Australia’s seniors, it could be the best place in the world to grow old. The fact it isn’t perhaps explains why Mr Kelly is trying to blame renewables for his government’s policy failures.

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Tom Allen

Tom writes about politics, sustainability & social justice and is studying a masters of sustainability at the University of Melbourne.

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