Heather du Plessis-Allan is a columnist for the Herald on Sunday

Heather du Plessis-Allan: Play fair in the generation game

Baby boomers aren't to blame for their financial luck. More important is protecting future generations.
Baby boomers aren't to blame for their financial luck. More important is protecting future generations.

Given my age, I'm supposed to be angry at freeloading, greedy baby boomers.

While my father had the luxury of studying at Victoria University for free, by the time I enrolled in tertiary education, it cost me thousands of dollars.

While my mother bought a home without paying a cent in deposit, my generation has to cobble together sometimes more than $100,000 just to qualify for a mortgage.

And while both my parents are entitled to the pension at 65, their generation of political leaders have just decided I should wait two years longer for mine.

My generation is supposed to be so angry about this latest ripping of the rug from under us millennials, that we're declaring an intergenerational war on the baby boomers.

Yet, I find I'm not angry. In fact, I'm disappointed with the Government for not doing a proper job with its proposed pension changes.

For years, my generation's been warned that we might never receive the pension unless something drastic changes. Yet, when the change finally came it was clearly engineered to be small enough and distant enough not to arouse anger, while making Prime Minister Bill English seem like a leader brave enough to embrace the politically unpalatable.

I don't begrudge my parents and the rest of the baby boomers their super at 65. They deserve it. When they entered the workforce the implied social contract with the government was that if they paid taxes all their working lives, they would be entitled to universal super at 65. And so, having met their side of the bargain, they should get what they were promised.

That social contract still exists with my generation, although we have less expectation of it being met because the deal was getting shaky by the time we started working. In fact, waiting only two extra years for something you expected to lose feels like a medium-sized Lotto win.

Which is why the Government could have gone harder. My generation was ready for the overhaul.

It's not that the system is unaffordable - our pension costs 3.8 per cent of GDP while the average across other developed nations is 7 per cent - it's more that the idea of retiring at 65 is ridiculous to so many of today's young people.

When the pension was first introduced in 1898, New Zealanders only expected to live 12 years beyond 65.

Now, we expect to live well into our 80s, if not our 90s. Retiring at 65 would mean working only 30-odd years, then spending almost as much of our lives not working while eating into our nest eggs.

If anything makes me angry it's the suspicion that the Government's designed this proposal so it will actually never happen. Nothing will be set in concrete until next year, by which time we will have had an election, either major party will have needed to call on New Zealand First leader Winston Peters for the numbers to form the government, and the Great Defender of Super will have insisted on ditching the proposal.

Which means, we'll have to wait for another government brave enough to have a crack at it.

And, when it does, it might want to do it properly.

Why not use United Future leader Peter Dunne's excellent suggestion of a variable age, where we can choose to retire younger on a lower pension, or retire later on a higher rate? Or be bold and hike the pension age to 70?

Seeing as there's no real financial pressure to overhaul super, such drastic changes could - like this week's going-nowhere proposal - be announced but delayed for decades.

Because, coming up behind my generation is Generation Z: a whole cohort of students who haven't yet started paying meaningful taxes, so haven't entered into any social contract over super.

Instead of baby boomers or even millennials, why not overhaul super for Generation Z?

- Herald on Sunday

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Heather du Plessis-Allan is a columnist for the Herald on Sunday

Heather du Plessis-Allan is a thirty-something living between Auckland and Wellington. She has more than a decade's experience hosting and reporting on TV and radio. Heather's worked in Parliament's Press Gallery, covered the 2012 London Olympic Games, and reported from as far afield as Antarctica.

Read more by Heather du Plessis-Allan

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