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Older Canberrans

Thank you, Madam Speaker, and I thank Ms Lawder for bringing this very important motion before the Assembly today. I rise today to speak in full support of it.

I wish to take this opportunity during ACT Seniors Week to pay tribute to the older Canberrans who live in my electorate of Ginninderra. I honour their wisdom and experience, their drive and determination. They are former engineers and electricians, public servants and police officers, shopkeepers, soldiers and so many others. Their contributions have helped to make this city what it is today, and they continue to play important roles in our communities. They are our mothers and fathers, grandparents, neighbours and treasured friends.

And far too often, Madam Speaker, they are forgotten or ignored. This has certainly been the case at the government level. Policies put forward by the current ACT Government have consistently disproportionately hit older Canberrans hardest, including with astronomic rate increases, and difficult-to-access and uncoordinated services.

For example, previously most unit owners – including retirees who had downsized – fell into the lowest marginal rates bracket because the value of the land was divided by the number of units before rates were calculated, as a matter of fairness. But now rates are based on the value of the entire development, pushing most unit owners into the top marginal rates bracket. This decision was made by the ACT Government without even modelling what the impact would be on homeowners with a fixed income. This is unfair, Madam Speaker, and continues to hurt many seniors – a fact that this government continues to ignore.

Canberra’s seniors deserve better. Last year I tabled a petition in this Assembly, signed by more than 150 residents, calling on the government to make age-friendly improvements in the suburb of Page. According to the latest census, nearly 27 per cent of the residents in Page are 65 years of age or over. This is more than double the average for the territory. Strikingly, 8.5 per cent of residents are 85 years or over – more than five times the territory’s average!

Many of these older residents live in three retirement villages located next to each other in Burkitt Street. Last year, residents who live in the area held consultations with the general managers and activities coordinators in Ridgecrest Retirement Village, Villagio Sant’ Antonio, and Bill McKenzie Gardens. The petition that I tabled was the direct outcome of these consultations.

In line with commitments expressed in the current ACT Active Ageing Plan, these 150-plus petitioners asked the ACT Government for three things: more equipment in a nearby neighbourhood park, a footpath from the retirement villages to the park, and a pedestrian crossing across Burkitt St to allow them to safely access the footpath. In response, the minister conceded to develop the footpath, for which I am grateful, but declined to paint the pedestrian crossing because, and I quote, ‘very few pedestrians cross Burkitt Street’. I would respectfully like to suggest, Madam Speaker, that very few pedestrians cross this street specifically because, without a marked crossing, they feel it is unsafe to do so. In fact,

Madam Speaker, this is precisely why more than 150 of them asked this government for a marked pedestrian crossing.

Regarding the outdoor exercise equipment that these seniors requested be installed in the park to help them stay physically active, the minister responded by telling them which other parks they could travel to in order to access similar equipment … the closest being a five-kilometre walk away along busy Southern Cross Drive. Their request for additional benches where they could sit and rest after walking to their nearby neighbourhood park was completely ignored in the minister’s response.

I share these details, Madam Speaker, as an example of what Ms Lawder is talking about when she calls upon the ACT Government to change its attitude towards older Canberrans and take meaningful action to improve their lives. Policies that unfairly impact older residents, unfulfilled promises and ignored requests make it clear that the current government does not take seniors seriously, and that, Madam Speaker, needs to change.

I commend this motion to the Assembly.

Thank you.

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