Permanent Mission of Australia
to the United Nations
New York

21 August 2012 - Statement to the UN Open-Ended Working Group on Ageing


Tuesday 21 August 2012

Statement by Tanisha Hewanpola

First Secretary

Permanent Mission of Australia to the United Nations


Human rights play an important role in Australian life. Our dedication to these principles is reflected in the value, priority, recognition and appreciation Australia has for the important role that older people make to our society. To this end, Australia is taking clear steps to ensure that the challenges faced by older persons are met. Australia welcomes the attention that the international community is giving to these issues, and the efforts of the Working Group on Ageing and the Bureau to ensure that the international framework of human rights adequately protects older people.

Like many countries around the word, Australia’s population is ageing. In 2007 people aged 65 years and over made up 13% of Australia's population. However, this proportion is projected to increase to between 23% and 25% by 2056. At the same time, the proportion of people aged under 15 years is projected to decrease from 19% in 2007 to between 15% and 18% in 2056. In 2007 there were just over 344,000 people aged 85 years and over in Australia, making up just 1.6% of the population. This group is projected to grow rapidly to between 4.9% and 7.3% by 2056.
Government will always need to adapt services and policies to meet changing circumstances. And our changing demography is no exception.

Australia continues to take important steps in this regard, to ensure that the human rights of all Australians are respected and protected as they age.

Australia is party to core international human rights instruments which provide protections to all Australians, regardless of age. But in the absence of a dedicated international human rights instrument, we have pushed ahead and introduced significant safeguards domestically to protect the human rights of older Australians, which in recent years we have actively built on.

- The introduction of the Age Discrimination Act made it unlawful to discriminate on the basis of age in key areas of public life including work, education, accommodation, access to goods and services, and the administration of Commonwealth laws and programs.

- In 2011, we appointed a dedicated Age Discrimination Commissioner to advocate for the rights of all Australians, help combat age discrimination in workplaces and in the community, to promote respect and fairness, and to tackle stereotypes that can contribute to age discrimination. We are pleased that Australia’s Age Discrimination Commissioner, the Honourable Susan Ryan AO, is here in New York to participate in this session of the Working Group, and we encourage other Member States to support the introduction of similar dedicated positions.

- Additionally, Australia has recently introduced reforms to improve our aged care system to give greater priority to the provision of in home care and support, as well as better access to residential care, and increased support to those with dementia.

- We are also currently undertaking a review of Federal legal barriers to older persons participating in the workforce.

- And we have increased the financial assistance provided to older people in recognition of the financial pressures they face.

Australia acknowledges the contribution older people make to their families, the community and the economy. But we also face – as a number of Member States do – the challenges associated with an ageing population. In facing these challenges we hold close one core principle – the need to ensure that older persons are able to live in dignity and security and to be free from exploitation and physical or mental abuse.

Australia is committed to implementing policies and programmes to better improve the wellbeing of older Australians and to implement our human rights obligations to them. But of course, this work continues. We look forward to the discussions over coming days and hearing from other States about initiatives they’re pursuing to improve the lives of older people.