Story: Older people
Page 4 – Politics and advocacy
Politics of age
Though older people have much the same political concerns as other age groups, some issues affect them more than others. Older people have been particularly active around superannuation. In the early 2000s they were a prominent voice in a campaign to reform the local government rating system, because older people on fixed incomes struggled with regular rates increases. Health services are another major political focus for older people.
Unlike in other countries, there have been no political parties specifically founded to address the issues of older people in New Zealand, but some parties have courted the ‘grey vote’. During the 1975 general election campaign one of the National Party’s policies was to offer universal superannuation, which it implemented after becoming government.
New Zealand First has been the party most associated with older voters. It gained a large proportion of older people’s votes throughout the 1990s and early 2000s through policies such as removing the tax surcharges paid by retired people, removing means and asset testing for long-term geriatric hospital stays, and introducing the Supergold card.
I’m here for Winston
The leader of New Zealand First, Winston Peters, was very popular with older voters. There was often a hint of celebrity-worship by supporters at political meetings and rallies. They came to see Peters first and New Zealand First second. At a meeting at Ōrewa in 2005 one elderly supporter said, ‘I’m here for Winston, and I just hope I live long enough to see him get in there and do something for us.’1 However, his support among older voters declined during the 2008 general election campaign within a context of alleged financial irregularities. New Zealand First did not get enough votes to return to Parliament.
As New Zealand’s population ages, it is likely that older voters will become more powerful simply because there will be more of them. Though people 65 and over have a diversity of beliefs and allegiances, they form a visible political bloc which will become increasingly attractive to politicians in the future.
At the level of government, there are a number of entities which concentrate on older people, including the Office for Senior Citizens (part of the Ministry of Social Development), Veterans’ Affairs New Zealand (part of the New Zealand Defence Force) and the Retirement Commission. Work and Income New Zealand manages superannuation payments.
Grey Power is the most prominent older people’s advocacy group. It was established in Auckland in 1985 after government placed a tax surcharge on the income retired people had in addition to superannuation. Grey Power has a specific focus on superannuation and health issues, while lobbying on any topical matter affecting older people. Other advocacy groups include Age Concern (founded in 1948) and the New Zealand Association of Gerontology (1982). They tackle matters such as elder neglect and abuse, age discrimination, access to services, isolation problems, transport availability, and research on ageing and its implications.