I write this aboard Air New Zealand flight 5352 to Palmerston North where I'm heading to attend the inaugural Norwood NZ Rural Sports Awards and the Hilux NZ Rural Games. More about that later.

Firstly though, I want to talk about retirement, a word that doesn't always sit comfortably with rural folk. In the case of farmers it can sometimes even have deadly consequences. I know too many farmers who have either retired early to town, only to die on their La-Z-Boy recliner, or those who have never retired from the farm at all and died with their boots on!

Which leads me to the big political debate of the past week - the age of eligibility for national superannuation. I reckon the solution to the super debate is simple. Lock Bill, Andrew, James and Metiria, Te Ururoa and Marama, David and Peter in a confined space and let them out when they're reached a bi-partisan agreement on national super. Note that I haven't included Winston in the aforementioned group of political party leaders, due to his propensity and penchant for peeing into the tent from the outside.

Although it's admirable Bill is tackling this thorny (some would say no-win) issue in election year, I question the reasoning for the arbitrary peg in the sand in 2037. That can end up being tinkered with by successive governments over the next two decades.


Surely the answer lies in a graduated introduction sooner, over a longer time frame, meaning those who have to face the full noise of the national super at 67 get a long period of notice to prepare.

My theory is that from April 1, 2020, the age of eligibility for national superannuation is lifted by one month per calendar year. Under that scenario by April 1, 2044 (after 24 annual incremental increases of one month) the age of eligibility would be 67 years. For someone of my 57 years that would mean that I'd qualify for national super at the age of 65 years and four months but I'd have eight years warning to figure out to fund the four month deficit. Similarly, someone aged 40 has 27 years to plan for a pension at the age of 67 in 2044.

So what about the critics who quite rightly claim such a scheme would disadvantage manual workers whose bodies wear out more quickly, or Maori/Pacifika whose life expectancy is less than that of Caucasians? Once again the answer is simple. You choose to take national super at a younger age but the trade-off is you accept payment at a lesser rate commensurate with the total value of the benefit over its expected lifetime.

As for the migrants, Winston's basically right there. A 20 year qualification period (25 is a bit tough Winnie!) seems much more equitable than the currently generous 10 years. I'm sorry, but a decade of contribution to the national coffers and economy should not equate to a full pension at 65 years of age. After all, the rest of us have chipped in for 45-50 years.

Yes, in a perfect world, the age of eligibility would stay at 65. However, with the cost of funding superannuation effectively doubling in the next 20 years as well as a burgeoning number of ageing baby boomers likely to see our hospitals bursting at the seams, we need to prioritise our welfare spending. Bill English is to be congratulated for his intestinal fortitude if maybe not his political timing. History will no doubt judge the latter.

Speaking of judges, I don't envy the panel deciding the inaugural Norwood NZ Rural Sports Awards. Included are such rural luminaries as Sir Brian Lochore, Sir David Fagan, MP Barbara Kuriger, equestrian royalty Tinks Pottinger, Games founder Steve Hollander and two men with a close association to this publication - former managing editor Tony Leggett and regular correspondent Craig "Wiggy" Wiggins. Guest speaker Mahe Drysdale and Dame Valerie Adams will be there as well, adding the sporting glitz and handing out the gongs.

Gun shearer Rowland Smith, champion fencer Shane Bouskill and the gloriously-named speed tree climber Scott Forrest compete for Rural Sportsman title. Woolhandler and shearer Pagan Karauria, world champion tree climber Chrissy Spence and gumboot throwing queen Kristen Churchwood vie for the Rural Sportswoman of the Year. The Young New Zealand Rural Sportsperson of the Year and the Contribution to the Rural Sports Industry will also be awarded.

The Hilux NZ Rural Games feature speed shearing, wood chopping, dog trials, speed fencing, Highland games, coal shovelling, speed tree climbing (for arborists), gumboot throwing, egg throwing and catching, wine barrel racing not to mention the have-a-go sports such as speed milking, hay stacking, olive stone-spitting and cow pat tossing.

By the time you read this we'll know all the results. I suspect though, following on from the Golden Shears, it will yet another winning weekend for Rowland Smith.