Deputy Speaker Claydon, you've been around a while, like I have, and these issues have been fought before us for quite a while—you haven't been here quite as long as I have, but you are an experienced member of this House, and I appreciate that you're in the chair tonight. You will understand that these issues around servicing for the benefit of older Australians have been on our table for a number of years. The previous government put a lot of work into how they might support older Australians. There was a whole package that they offered at the last election and had introduced before the last election on behalf of older Australians.
This new government—I call it a new government; it is only six months old—has put some of those policies into practice and made it easier for pensioners to earn more. But the disincentives for pensioners and recipients of benefit from government are these: they live a precarious lifestyle, unlike us; they have a fixed income; they have a healthcare card; they have other benefits that accrue around where they're at with their money—and their money is not great. Yet we have this massive untapped resource of people in Australia who have reached a certain age and can take a pension but are still quite able to work—and are probably willing to work.
Where does that leave government in trying to put in place incentives without putting in place disincentives? If their healthcare card is threatened, they will choose not to work. If other accrued benefits are threatened, they will choose not to work. In fact, if, in particular, you ask any unemployed women—sometimes they have children, but they also have other responsibilities—why they are not necessarily taking up the opportunities they need to take up, they will tell you it is because they can't afford to lose their benefit. Why? It is because it takes so long to go through the process to get back onto the benefit. They're threatened by the fact of what will happen if they lose their benefit because they've gone to work.
We as a government have to find ways to ease the burden of the restrictions that do not allow people to easily go into the workforce. So I think what the government has done here, as well as what was proposed by the previous government, is of great benefit. It will enable the government to say, 'You can earn some more money before you lose any benefit whatsoever.' Now, I think it's not enough; I think we could always increase it. But to do that, we would have to radically change our ideas of what we actually think about older people in the workforce. Are we as a nation prepared to be radical enough to say, 'We're prepared to pay you a pension, and we'll benefit you by telling you that you can work many more hours without losing your healthcare card or without losing part of your pension'?
We are so desperate for nurses, healthcare workers and hospitality workers. Even if you're not out front, you can be in the background. There's such a shortage when you walk into a community. Deputy Speaker, I could walk into your community and there'd be a sign: 'We are hiring. Come and see us. Come and talk to us.' And it's probably because of this policy that I now see more older Australians actually working behind the counter, especially in some of the bakeries and food outlets that I visit. The socialisation that comes along with work makes a huge difference to the lifestyle and the opportunities that people have. They're suddenly back in society and back in the community. We don't want people sitting at home if they don't want to sit at home.
As a community, as a government, as a nation and as a parliament, we actually have to find ways to encourage those people to feel free to go back into work and not suffer the restrictions that we put upon them with other regulations. These are our own unintended consequences—because we don't want them ripping off the system, do we! Oh, no, that would be terrible! These are not people who are ripping off the system; these are people who have the opportunity to contribute to this great south land. They can contribute. They're in every state. They're in every community. They're everywhere, and we want them on board, as part of our society, working. Let's try to make it easier for older Australians.