• Dennis is suing the Commonwealth to access the aged care pension earlier due to the poorer life expectancy of indigenous men. (Ron Ekkel: The Point)Source: Ron Ekkel: The Point
A Wakka Wakka man is taking the Commonwealth to court in a bid to give Indigenous men earlier access to the aged care pension, due to lower life expectancies.
Sarah Collard

The Point
26 Sep 2021 - 9:10 AM  UPDATED 28 Sep 2021 - 11:18 AM

A 63-year-old Aboriginal man is suing the Commonwealth in a bid to ensure more Indigenous Australians can access the Aged Care Pension.

Wakka Wakka man Dennis said he should be able to get the pension earlier because of the lower life expectancy of Aboriginal men.

Statistics show Indigenous people suffer worse health outcomes than the broader population and have a lower life expectancy of almost 10 years. 

A First Nations boy born today can expect to live till he is 71 years old while a baby girl can expect to live to 75. 

“I'm sick and tired of this,” Dennis told NITV’s The Point.

“It's time I stand up and be counted - not as an Australian, but as a proud Aboriginal person." 

Less than one per cent of those on the aged care pension identify as Indigenous.

Eligibility requirements are slightly different for men and women. But if the legal action is successful, it could also affect Indigenous women. 

Dennis said he’s worked hard all his life and knows the meaning of hard yakka. 

He has been a radio broadcaster at Melbourne’s 3KND community station for 18 years, but he first started work at age 10 in regional Queensland working on a dairy farm.

“My first pay was $2. And then for two and a half years, I got $4 a fortnight,” he said. 

“And the older men, they got about $60 a fortnight.

“You think about all the past things that you've been through, the pain and the sorrow.

“I felt that I have to do something, but I know in my heart that I can't fix it all, but (I'm) doing my bit."

Pension legislation ‘exclusionary and racist’ 

Australians are working longer and many look forward to a slower pace of life when they do put the tools down.

But from July 2023, Australians will need to be 67 years old to access the aged pension.

Dennis is backed by both the Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service and the Human Rights Law Centre, who argue the legislation is discriminatory against Indigenous people.

Wiradjuri and Noongar woman Lee-Anne Carter said the laws should be changed to reflect the different life expectancies of First Nations people, particularly men. 

“Government's aren’t allowed to actually implement laws that discriminate or have worse outcomes for people of different races or people of different backgrounds —  And that's precisely what the age pension does,” Ms Carter said. 

She said the failure to close the life expectancy gap is disproportionately excluding Indigenous peoples from living their final years with dignity. 

“We're talking about people who have been leaders, we're talking about people who are Elders,” she said.

“It's not about compensation, it's about equity, it's about fairness.”

Human Rights Law Centre's advisor Meena Singh said it is a 'national shame'. 

"Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be able to access the pension earlier. This is just one way the Australian Government can recognise the health impacts of generations of systemic discrimination," she said. 

The federal minister for aged care and senior Australians Richard Colbeck has been contacted for comment. 

Dennis said he would not give up until his people had the same opportunities as non-Indigenous Australians. 

“I’ve seen it over and over. I think no matter what city I go to, in this country, you see a lot that our people are still suffering,” he said.

“Bringing the age group down, I think it will not only make me happy but it will make our people, our ancestors, all  the people that were gone happy.“

" I don't believe in violence or anger. I believe in standing up for what we believe is right."

*NITV is following Dennis’s wishes and withholding his last name at his request.

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