Rachel Smalley: Retirement age debate clearly shows the problem with politics

The good news? Finally, it seems we're going to have that conversation about the retirement age.

John Key said the age would never go up on his watch, and that's something Bill English has always had to tip-toe around.

I've interviewed him on a number of occasions over the last two terms, and it wasn't an issue he was comfortable talking about. He would suggest we'd have to look at it at some stage, it's just that now wasn't the right time: "Now"" meaning while John Key was in power.

But now English says he could push the "reset" button and the age might go up.

It should. It has to.

We're living longer. We've got an aging population. Birth rates have dropped.

If you keep the retirement age at 65, you're going to saddle taxpayers - not to mention your children and your grandchildren - with a huge bill. Keeping the retirement age at 65 just does not make sense. It's unaffordable.

It should be lifted to 67, phased in over the next 15 years or so.

And we need to understand that lifting the age won't work for everyone.

If you're a farmer, if you've worked a labour-intensive job all your life, then working until your late 60s will be a challenge.

So it's not "one size fits all". But the age does need to move.

Then, off the back of National's comments - enter Labour, stage left. Labour used to lobby to raise the age. Labour thought Key's approach was wrong. And then something happened.

I suspect after losing the last three elections, they did some polling - and raising the retirement age proved unpopular. I interviewed Grant Rrobertson in November, and he said as much. I asked him why Labour had moved on this, and was no longer advocating for a lift in the retirement age.

He said "a lot of people say to me 'we need politicians who will be brave on this'. Well, we were brave on this for two elections in a row on this issue and it didn't work for us. Now we're taking a step back and say let's look at this longterm."

There it is. It's not popular. And Andrew Little is re-iterating that party line. He says too many New Zealanders struggle to work to the age of 65 already, and English's comments will create unnecessary worry.

And then Little said this: "A Labour government I lead will not raise the entitlement age."
A complete turnaround. That's a mistake, I think.

And this is where politics becomes so frustrating.

Yes, parties do what they can to get in government, but at the same time you have to be authentic. You have to be real.

Labour knows the retirement age has to increase. Talk to any economist. They'll tell you. This is something we have to phase in.

But it wouldn't happen under Key and now it won't happen under a Labour government led by Little.

And that's a big mistake, I think.

It's populist policy. And who wins from that? Long term, we'll all lose.

Rachel Smalley hosts Early Edition on Newstalk ZB

- NZ Herald

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