Grey Power activism forgets constituency

RICHARD LONG
Last updated 05:00 13/03/2012

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Richard Long

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OPINION: Just what on earth does Grey Power think it is up to? I'd always thought the organisation existed to campaign for pensioners, to ensure superannuation was inflation proofed and that privileges such as the gold card were maintained and extended.

But now the pensioners' organisation is out there with the Council of Trade Unions, the Labour Party and assorted lefties, leading the charge against the selldown of state assets by means of a citizens-initiated referendum.

What's next? Can we expect Lucy Lawless-type acts by the oldies to stop mineral exploration, mining and anything else that might bring economic benefit? This highly politicised new role by the oldies' lobby group is batty, for a host of reasons.

For a start, with the electorate balanced practically evenly between Left and Right, our half a million pensioners, and the half million approaching retirement, are also likely to be split fairly evenly down the middle in terms of political allegiance. So why has Grey Power opted for the Left-wing route? If those on the Right cancel their subscriptions in protest, Grey Power would be emasculated as a lobby group.

Then there is the John Key factor. The prime minister earned the criticism of just about every economist in the land when he flatly rejected increasing the age of eligibility for national super from age 65, as just about every other country of our type is doing and as we, realistically, will probably eventually have to do.

Grey Power was all in favour of this stand by Mr Key, but is now undermining the one political leader who will not allow the age of eligibility to be increased on his watch. Instead they are backing Labour leader David Shearer who basically admitted on TV One's current affairs programme at the weekend that the pension age would have to be increased.

If I were John Key I'd be inclined to drop the mild-mannered courtesies for a bit and fire a warning shot across the bows of the activists who have clearly captured Grey Power.

For example, if Grey Power is not interested in reducing debt, through these sales, perhaps he should warn it a logical result would not only be an increase in the pension age and limits on inflation-proofing, but other changes as well, such as gold card restrictions, or even the dreaded means-testing. That would put the cat among the retirement pigeons.

Mr Key could also put the boot in by noting Grey Power, which is supposed to have the interests of retirees at heart, has absolutely no sympathy for the thousands of pensioners who tragically lost their retirement savings in the post-2008 collapse of the finance houses.

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If Grey Power was genuinely concerned, Mr Key could note, it would welcome the addition of such safe investment havens as the partly privatised state assets, so pensioners in future can invest with confidence and safeguard their funds.

Kiwi Saver schemes and the New Zealand Superannuation Fund could do likewise.

Grey Power members will be wondering where the national organisation will be heading next after this new politicisation. Will they be marching down Queen St in support of the greedy Auckland watersiders and their $100,000 annual pay packets when the new structure will still allow for lucrative pay, but return more to the Auckland City Council to bring some relief to the ever-increasing rates burden?

Even the Labour Party is trying to keep its distance from the watersiders strike, although Mr Shearer, in his weekend TV One interview, gave half-hearted support.

Maybe he was trying to avoid the vacillating stance of one of his predecessors, Walter Nash, who famously proclaimed during the great 1951 dispute: "I am neither for nor against".

Grey Power could justifiably have got involved in lobbying for better returns for Oceania rest home workers, where an overseas giant pays minimum wages to workers who have the thankless task of caring for the elderly, many of them incapacitated.

They should stop grand-standing on asset sales and get into something like this, which directly affects the elderly.

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