Speech by The Hon Tanya Pibersek MP

Creating the housing market for Australia’s future – Speech to the 3rd Annual Retirement Communities Conference

Location: Four Seasons Hotel, Sydney

I would like to acknowledge the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation, the traditional custodians of this land and pay respect to their elders, both past and present.

Thank you Jim (Hazel, Non-Executive Director and Chairman Becton Living) for your kind introduction.

This forum provides me with the first opportunity I have had to speak with people involved in accommodation for retiring Australians and I thank you for your invitation.

The business of retirement villages has doubled since 1990.

With Australia’s ageing population I understand your business is expected to double again within the next 20 years.1

This forum also provides me with an opportunity to discuss some of early thoughts on how, as the Federal Housing Minister, I can work with you to create a housing market to meet the needs of our older Australians.

We have more than 3 million retired Australians – two fifths of people aged over 45.

Another one million people will retire over the next ten years. 2

We are living longer, healthier lives – we now have the longest life expectancy of any English speaking nation.

2 million Australians over 70.

Nearly 2,800 Australians are over 100 years old and by 2055 we expect this number to be 78,000.

This means there will be fewer younger Australians working to support more older Australians, and many older Australians will stay in the workforce longer – either because they are healthy and enjoy work, or because it is a financial necessity.

Many older Australians will struggle financially.

More than a quarter of people who intend to retire expect to live on the aged pension.3

Half of the women who intend to retire expect to have no personal income at all in retirement.4

The needs of an ageing population will put pressure on the capacity of government payments and programs.

These needs will also put pressure on our housing market.

About a third of older people lived alone in private dwellings – and for those aged 85 and over, the most common living arrangement is (still) to be living alone in a private dwelling.5

Older Australians in the private rental market are doing it particularly tough.

Nearly 14,000 aged pensioners in the private rental market are spending more than 50% of their pension on rent.6

Every week I receive letters from older Australians who are concerned they will not have access to safe, secure and affordable housing.

I hear from older couples living in their family homes who can no longer afford to maintain them.

I hear from older women, living alone, who don’t feel safe in their neighbourhoods.

I hear from older people who struggle to climb the stairs to the apartment they have lived in for 30 years.

It is clear that we could do more to create the housing market for our future.

We need more affordable housing for those older Australians who need it, to have a better range of housing products for older Australians and to improve planning in our cities so at to accommodate the needs of older Australians.

We need to make getting older in Australia – easier.

The Australian Government is strongly committed to supporting Australians as they age.

Last year we commissioned a Pension Review to investigate measures to boost the financial security of seniors.

The report of the Pension Review was received by the Government in February 2009.

The Government is committed to long term pension reform, and this reform will be delivered in the next Budget.

As a down payment on this longer term reform, last year, the Government’s $10.4 billion Economic Security Strategy included an additional $4.8 billion in lump sum payments to four million pensioners.

These lump sum payments of $1,400 to older singles and $2,100 to older couples were made to minimise the effect of the current economic conditions.

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These payments delivered immediate financial relief to pensioners.

The Government also provides practical financial support to over 180,000 aged pensioners to help people with the cost of rent through Commonwealth Rent Assistance.

The Government, through my colleague the Minister for Ageing, Justine Elliot, is also delivering record levels of aged care and community care funding – more than $41 billion over the next four years.

Of that total, $29.5 billion will go to nursing homes and hostels.

And over the next three years, we plan to create more than 37,000 new aged care places to meet the national target operational ratio for aged care provision.

This is 113 aged care places for every 1,000 people aged 70 years and over – up from 111.5 at 30 June 2008.

We are also significantly increasing the supply of affordable rental homes for older disadvantaged Australians.

The Government is delivering 50,000 new affordable rental properties across Australia over the next four years under our National Rental Affordability Scheme.

It provides tax incentives to those who build new rental housing that it is rented to low and moderate income households at a 20 per cent discount to market.

Over the last six months we have been working hard to get proposals from people in the aged care industry who are building specially designed homes for older Australians.

Just yesterday I announced the first successful applicants under the Scheme – who have already begun building the first 4,000 homes.

About 600 of these dwellings – one fifth – include special features which make them accessible and suitable for older Australians.

One project we announced yesterday – Amana Living in Western Australia – will specifically target low income renters over 70 years old.

Another project – Paramount in Tasmania – will include dwellings for people over 55 years of age who have a disability.

Yet another project on the Gold Coast will include dwellings specifically designed for aged people who require wheelchair access.

Many other projects – many here in NSW – included homes which can be modified over time to allow people to age in place.

National Rental Affordability Scheme properties must be newly built. That means better quality homes with less maintenance that will let people age in place.

Round Two of our Scheme closed last week and my early advice is that there is a growing interest from the aged care sector to build rental homes under our Scheme.

And, to add to this, last month, as part of the Nation Building and Jobs Plan, we committed $6.4 billion for new social housing.

This is the single largest investment in social housing ever made by an Australian Government.

At the moment – there about 80,000 aged pensioner households in social housing. 7

And each year, here in NSW, about a third of newly housed public housing tenants are over 55 years.8

Under our Nation Building and Jobs Plan we will upgrade more than 10,000 social housing dwellings and repair a further 37,000.

We will also build 20,000 new social housing dwellings.

Upgrading existing homes and building more social housing will greatly benefit some of the poorest most disadvantaged older Australians living in public and community housing.

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It will also boost the economy and support vital jobs in the building and construction industry.

While we have had a busy first fifteen months in housing – there is more to do.

As first housing Minister in over a decade I am determined to work with all levels of Government to design the housing market we will need for our future.

One of our biggest challenges is to design a market that meets the needs of an ageing population.

I delivered an address at the Sydney Institute about the Government’s housing reform agenda, our housing vision, over the next decade.

Creating a housing market that meets the needs of older Australians is a key part of our vision.

Australia needs a better range of housing products – that are universal in their design and can be modified over time.

And we need to better plan our cities with older Australians in mind.

With our housing products – I want to see a better match between the homes that are on offer and the needs of ageing households.

I know many people in this room are already innovating.

Many of you are already building better housing stock for your market – responding to the needs and aspirations of older people.

I too intend to lead by example with our new social housing stock.

There are many models for providing quality accommodation for older disadvantaged tenants.

Some states have built dedicated seniors villages, giving older people the community they are looking for.

Macarthur Village in Campbelltown – on the outskirts of Sydney is one such example. This is a master planned estate developed by LandCom.

Illawarra Retirement Trust have built 310 retirement apartments on the estate. They are perfectly situated – next to the hospital, local shopping plaza and the Catholic Club.

The Trust also provides community aged care packages – the same as a low level residential care facility for people in these apartments.

Macarthur Village also includes a 60 place residential facility.

The Illawarra Retirement Trust is just one innovator in the aged accommodation and care sector.

Macarthur Village highlights the importance of partnerships between developers, aged care accommodation providers and community organisations.

The Benevolent Society’s ‘Apartments for Life’ in Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs is another excellent example of innovative, specialist housing products for older Australians.

This proposed development that will include social housing, private rental and units for purchase.

Homes have been designed to be ‘age proofed’ – adaptable to residents changing health and care needs. And residents can receive community care packages in their home to support them to live independently.

There are two ways the Australian Government can assist – one is give you the building blocks to include affordable housing products in your mixed developments for older low income Australians.

We are doing this with our initiatives in social housing and affordable rental housing.

The second way is encourage more flexible planning at a local government level.

To foster the innovation of many providers of aged accommodation – requires local governments to be more flexible and innovative when it comes to their planning regimes.

There are real challenges for our planning systems but with leadership and coordinated action, we can foster innovation in housing stock and create more liveable and sustainable cities – better matched to our populations.

These are exciting – and challenging – times.

But to create a housing market we need for our future – we need to start now.

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The Government is committed to making housing more affordable.

We have worked hard over the past 15 months and – with your advice and help – we have made great headway implementing measures to help make housing more affordable.

We must continue to build on the work we have already done.

We now have the opportunity of a lifetime to work together to ensure older Australians have a safe and secure home.

I trust that today – and other conferences like this over the next few years – you will be putting your heads together – to find new and creative ways to work together to deliver a better range of housing products to suit Australians as they age.

As aged accommodation specialists I am keen to work with you and with state and local governments to build more of the homes that older Australians want.

  1. Ageism: Designed and Planned for Older Australians? Maree Petersen School of Social Work & Human Services & Australasian Centre on Ageing University of Queensland – March 2009
  2. ABS; Australian Social Trends 4102.0 2009 page 25
  3. ABS; Australian Social Trends 4102.0 2009 page 29
  4. ABS; Australian Social Trends 4102.0 2009 page 29
  5. Older Australia at a glance: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2007 4th edition p.viii
  6. Commonwealth Rent Assistance Data Set September 2008
  7. National Housing Data Agreement public housing minimum data set based on data provided by the States and Territories to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare
  8. Housing NSW Annual Report 2007/2008