• There are renewed calls to lower retirement age for Indigenous people (NITV)Source: NITV
A petition to lower the retirement age for the Indigenous community has re-surfaced, as lobbyists push for similar reforms ahead of a government review.
Rachael Hocking

6 Feb 2020 - 9:22 AM  UPDATED 6 Feb 2020 - 9:22 AM

Mununjali and Yugambeh man Brett Nutley has been pushing to lower the retirement age for his community to 55 since 2014. He said it was a sobering reality which spurred him into action. 

"I realised a lot of my extended family and a lot of me bunjis that I've worked with over the years, they weren't reaching retirement age. They were actually getting sick and some were passing away," Mr Nutley said. 

"In my previous life I used to work at Queensland Parliament and I always encouraged young people in leadership positions to put in petitions, so I thought 'well, I'll do the same.'"

Mr Nutley's experience was backed-up when he researched official statistics on life expectancy. The latest data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics reveals Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people die on average around eight years earlier than the rest of the population. 

His petition - calling for the option for Indigenous people to retire at 55 until 2031, the year the Close the Gap target on life expectancy is due to expire - racked up just shy of two thousand signatures, and in 2016 WA Greens Senator Rachel Siewert tabled it in Parliament.

It was never debated and Mr Nutley's campaign slowed down, but now he's re-igniting those calls - just as the government's retirement income review closes for submissions.

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Among those submissions are lobbyists such as the Australian Council for Trade Unions (ACTU) and consulting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers calling for similar reform which would see Indigenous people able to access their pension and superannuation earlier than the rest of the population.

Currently the pension age is 66 or 67 depending on if you were born before or after 1957, and the preservation age for accessing super is between 55 and 60. 

Torres Strait Islander academic, lawyer and expert in consumer protection, Dr Heron Loban, told NITV News the renewed push was in line with census and health data which has been available for decades. 

"When you’ve got key stakeholders across the super sector... in clear agreement that there is a problem and providing a clear solution, then that experience and expertise needs to be taken on board by government," she said.

A spokesman for Minister for Indigenous Australians Ken Wyatt said in the Sydney Morning Herald on Wednesday there were "systemic and structural transformations required to achieve better life outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in older age".

Dr Loban agreed, saying efforts to close the gap need to be holistic and have long-term vision, but she said that isn't a reason to avoid short-term strategies such as lowering the retirement age. 

"Are we going to make Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people wait for their super while this gap closes, or accept that we're still decades away from meaningful gains?" she asked. 

"We need realistic short term solutions, as well as these longer term ones."

Superannuation can be accessed early if an ill or disabled person requires medical treatment, but Dr Loban said this is not beneficial to Indigenous people who are already at a disadvantage when it comes to accessing super.

"There are already questions about whether super is dong its job for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people," she said.

"Suggestions that they can just fill out some forms and apply for early access goes against the fundamental issues identified by the sector: 'do they have super, where is it, and how do they access it?'

"There still is a lot of work that needs to be done about how [Indigenous] people view money, use money and what opportunities there are that allow us to maintain our identity and flourish in terms of economic goals."

Next week the Prime Minister will give his Close the Gap address and give the first update since the policy has undergone a significant refresh. 

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