Wakka Wakka man, Uncle Dennis, is leading the charge to lower the pension access age for Indigenous people.
Uncle Dennis, and the Aboriginal Legal Service (VALS) filed a case against the Commonwealth in the Federal Court last week to the pension age to be lowered three-years for First Nations Peoples.
The 64-year-old argues that due to the lower life expectancy of First Nations Peoples compared to non-Indigenous People, having the same retirement age for all groups of people results in inequality.
The pension age in Australia has been gradually increasing from 65 to 67. It’s estimated that by 2023, Australians will need to be 67-years-old before they are considered eligible to receive pension.
According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, the life expectancy for First Nations People is 71.6 years for males and 75.6 years for females. Whilst comparatively non-Indigenous People face a life expectancy of 80.2 years for males and 83.4 years for females.
“As an Aboriginal man, I’ve seen too many of my people dying at a very early age. We are lucky to get to 50 years old,” said Uncle Dennis.
“It’s only fair for the pension age to be lowered. The pension is an important part of caring for and looking after our people when they can’t work anymore.
“This case is not about money or power. It’s about living in peace and harmony. I want all our old people to be able to have a happy life and a good life.”
Uncle Dennis said that changing the age of pension for First Nations Peoples was one step towards reconciliation and truth-telling.
“Our people lived here for tens of thousands of years and nothing was broken. But look what has, happened in just 200 years. We have to face up to this problem. The only way this country will be, free is to tell the truth about what happened here,” he said.
“White people are living longer because they haven’t lost what we have lost. So many things that Aboriginal people are suffering from today, are because of how we have been treated since colonisation.”
VALS Statewide Community Justice Programs Leader, Lee-Anne Carter, noted the significance of the case.
“If the case is successful, it will mean our Elders will be able to live with more dignity thanks to better financial security,” she said.
“It will help address housing security, health, education, and justice outcomes. It will be a small, probably unnoticeable change for most people in Australia, but it really could be a huge increase in the quality of life for our mob.
“We should all have the same opportunity to retire and benefit from the age pension system, but Aboriginal people are being denied this opportunity by the failure of governments to close the gap in life expectancy.”
Carter explained that the case would aim to lower the pension age by at least three years, but the exact age will depend on expert advice on life expectancy.
“Filing the case in Federal Court last week was an important step, but there’s a lot of hard work ahead of us,” said Carter.
“We really hope that the community follows the case and continues to have important conversations about the issues that are being addressed by the case – colonisation, government failures, health outcomes, closing the gap and racial discrimination.”
A spokeswoman for Social Services Minister Anne Ruston spoke to the ABC, emphasising the Government’s intent to focus on the Closing the Gap Implementation Plan, and not on the policy suggestion that this case makes.
By Aaron Bloch