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Making retirement accessible for First Nations People

6 July 2020

News and media


person holding an old person's hand

As the latest Closing the Gap Report has highlighted, First Nations people face multiple barriers in their lives, including more health and socio-economic disadvantages than non-Indigenous Australians, and a lower life expectancy. In order for meaningful reconciliation to be achieved, genuine approaches are needed to improve Indigenous peoples’ futures, and this includes making adjustments to institutions such as the superannuation system. Carissa Lee Godwin, Editor, Analysis & Policy Observatory’s (APO’s) First Peoples & Public Policy Collection, investigates the ways in which the superannuation system can be more accommodating to the needs of First Nations people.

Bankwest Curtin Economics Centre and UniSuper produced the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians and the superannuation system report. The report states that although the numerous disadvantages of First Nations Australians have been extensively investigated, there has been little exploration of First Nations peoples’ experiences in retirement and quality of life in old age compared to those of non-Indigenous people. The report compiles an investigation and includes recommendations to make First Nations peoples’ access to superannuation more accessible and to ensure their lives as senior citizens are financially supported.

Key report findings

The report presents the results of qualitative research and quantitative modelling providing insights into the challenges faced by First Nations people in preparing for retirement in an attempt to begin a broader discussion on the pursuit for socio-economic equity for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Key findings include:

The report estimates that the existing superannuation balances of non-Indigenous Australians upon retirement are, on average, more than double that of First Nations people, with more women than men having incomes below the modest standard. 
First Nations people and other groups who face socioeconomic disadvantage will have lower incomes in retirement, and almost all will rely on the Age Pension should they reach the eligibility age of 67. It is worth reconsidering the current superannuation parameters, whether they offer too much in the way of tax concessions to higher income earners, and too little in the way of a safety net for future retirement incomes. 
An important contextual difference between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians that deserves reiterating is the stark contrast in the population age-profiles. In 2016, the Australian Bureau of Statistics estimated that due to a combination of higher mortality rates and fertility rates, the Indigenous population is much more youthful than the wider Australian population.
The meaning of Preservation age could be defined here as well as the current differences between First Nations and non-Indigenous people as the minimum retirement age.

Key recommendations

Superannuation access needs to be adjusted to account for the life, health and socio-economic differences between First Nations people and non-Indigenous people. The report’s recommendations are informed by factors such as: difference in preservation age, family responsibilities and income differences.

The report recommends that:

Due to the difference in preservation age between First Nations and non-Indigenous people, that First Nations people be permitted to access their superannuation from age 50, under the same conditions that non-Indigenous people can do at age 65. However, the preservation age of First Nations people should be reviewed on a five-yearly or 10-yearly basis, and the raising of the age of access to superannuation would be conditional upon improvement of the gap in life expectancy of First Nations and non-Indigenous Australians (page vi).
Organisations such as the Association of Superannuation Funds of Australia (ASFA), the Indigenous Superannuation Working Group and the Commonwealth Government should work together to identify what ways existing legislation can be amended “to relax the hardship conditions for early provision to superannuation for Indigenous persons and/or the costs and tax penalties associated with early access” (page vi).
First Nations status data would need to be made available in order to be incorporated into the Overcoming Indigenous Disadvantage reporting framework for future relevant government inquiries (page v).

Far-reaching benefits

The current superannuation system in Australia excludes First Nations people in a multitude of ways. First Nations people are more prone to chronic health issues, have greater responsibility to support family and community members, and often need to work until much later in life. If the recommendations in this report are honoured, there is an opportunity to improve First Nations peoples’ quality of life and not leave them lost in a system that has been constructed from a non-Indigenous foundation. As the report states: 

In Aboriginal culture, looking after an elderly person is an accepted part of everyday life and it is a cultural norm to encourage the aged to remain at home. Many families live with three generations, appreciating the effects of grandparents and grandchildren on each other’s wellbeing. Of course, these preferences are subject to practical limitations of overcrowding, finances and logistics, and often families do need to turn to non-Indigenous institutional support” (page 7).

Amendments, such as earlier superannuation access and relaxed hardship conditions for early superannuation provision, would be very helpful for First Nations people who look after extended and senior family members. For First Nations people, much about our future is uncertain, so to give us the same financial reassurance as non-Indigenous people, will at least give us the knowledge that this is one system where we’re not being left behind.

About the First Peoples & Public Policy Collection

As part of its mission to improve Indigenous policy in Australia and Aotearoa-New Zealand, ANZSOG is working to increase knowledge of Indigenous culture and history. Part of this is our support of the Analysis & Policy Observatory’s (APO) First Peoples & Public Policy Collection.

APO is an open access evidence platform that makes public policy research accessible and usable. It contains more than 40,000 resources, including specialist collections, grey literature reports, articles and data.

The First Peoples & Public Policy Collection is curated from a broad selection of key Indigenous policy topics, and provides a valuable resource on Indigenous affairs, with a focus on diverse Indigenous voices.


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December – Keeping First Nations families together
February 2020 – Garma 2019 report: Including First Nations in future policies
April 2020Closing the gap: A new partnership
June 2020After the bushfires: The absence of First Nations’ voices