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Opinion: Long-term Stability Must Be The Driver

Retirement Commissioner Colin Blair speaks out on changes to New Zealand Superannuation.

Monday, October 26th 1998, 12:00AM

by Philip Macalister

Without wishing to repeat myself, political events of the past few weeks motivate me to return to the theme of my last column.

In August, I suggested it would never be easy for our confrontational-style politicians to bury their differences and political self-interests, and agree to a multi-party approach to the development of retirement income policies to serve New Zealanders’ needs in the next century.

The public want and are entitled to expect reasonable stability and certainty in the area of long-term retirement income policies. Without such stability, they cannot plan. And without the opportunity to plan, working New Zealanders’ lifestyle in retirement will most likely fall short of their expectations.

More so now than ever, long-term stability in retirement income policy must be a high priority issue for politicians and the country.

That requires not only multi-party agreement, but even more importantly, public acceptance that proposed policies are viable, equitable and sustainable.

Retirement income policy, as recent events illustrate, is a subject charged with emotion and concern. That’s understandable given that after health, financial security is the major concern of those in or approaching retirement.

It is an area where political parties can either fuel the public’s concerns by attacking each others’ policies and creating uncertainty, or they can allay concerns by working together to introduce stable and viable policies. The latter requires consensus.

But only through greater understanding by all New Zealanders of the issues and the options, will consensus be achieved. Through public consensus - the collective voice of voters - politicians will be forced to concentrate on long-term, sustainable policy decisions rather than short-term political point-scoring.

Whatever new initiatives are adopted to bring about policy changes, public education and discussion must be part of the process. And from the very outset, public support for the process will be crucial.

Without consultation and inclusion, public understanding of the issues and a high level of acceptance of proposed long-term policies will not be achievable.

I am sure that most members of the public would like to hear more from more politicians about how we can build consensus and stability, rather than what is wrong with the views of their political opponents.

In the meantime, the importance of private savings to supplement New Zealand Superannuation is something I and my Office will continue to promote.

Those who make some private provision, even at a modest level, will be able to enjoy some degree of financial independence and flexibility when they make the transition from work to retirement.

The current proposals confirm the importance of our efforts to assist working New Zealanders in the process of planning and providing for their retirement years.

Colin Blair is the Retirement Commissioner. This article appears in the latest issue of Future Focus.

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