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People Making Changes Issue 37 - Greypower New Zealand
Dorothy - 11/9/98

Senior citizens uniting to support the rights of New Zealanders of all ages.

National President tells members to be "vocal, visible and vibrant"
Don Robertson, the National President of Greypower, is keen for the members of Greypower New Zealand to continue to be "vocal, visible and vibrant". This is of key importance, even though they have achieved the removal of the surtax on the income of Senior Citizens which was the original motivation for the formation of the movement. This achievement may be at risk with the collapse of the coalition between National and New Zealand First.

What motivated Don to join Greypower?
Don Robertson joined Greypower eight years ago because he was fed up with hearing about 'the greedy oldies syndrome' - a totally unjustified description of a generation who had worked hard and saved hard - as New Zealanders are now being urged to do! After a lifetime of hard work and prudent money management why should they have to pay extra taxation and be vilified for protesting against discrimination? They were seemingly being clobbered and marginalised in many areas.

What skills did Don bring to the position?
To be effective an organisation like Greypower must be efficiently run and among its members it has a huge pool of skills which are largely unutilised since the members retired. Don, born in Great Britain, graduated as a member of the British Hotel and Catering Institute and became a member of both the British and New Zealand Management Institutes. He has put these skills to use in business for many years and still runs a backpackers and bed and breakfast business in Palmerston North.

He is a people person as is demonstrated in his career which meant constant dealings with people, and in his concern about the problems of people of all ages in New Zealand. He is involved in community service and is at present an elected member of his Palmerston North city ward committee.

How did Greypower New Zealand begin?
When the Labour Party introduced the Surcharge on National Superannuation in 1983 a number of disgruntled National Party supporters in Auckland banded together in a group called the New Zealand Superannuitants Association with the aim of having the surtax withdrawn.

Increased numbers and widening scope
Since then the name has been changed to Greypower New Zealand and the small group has increased until there are over eighty thousand members, spread over eighty two associations throughout New Zealand. These vary in size from 8,000 members to small rural groups of 50 or 60 members. The largest group is in Invercargill where there is no Age Concern, and Greypower supplies many of the needs met so well by Age Concern in cities like Christchurch.

Greypower New Zealand is different from the Greypower movements in Australia and the USA. In Australia Greypower is a political party, and in the USA it is virtually a union with a huge membership and a budget of millions of dollars, like a multinational corporation.

In New Zealand Greypower was born out of political anguish and its aims and objectives have arisen from that anguish. It is not National Party centred, but is a political lobby group supporting no political party, and lobbying in favour not only of the elderly but people of all ages suffering under the present systems.

The surcharge has been an albatross around the necks of senior citizens, and has also in a way been an albatross around the neck of Greypower, as many people have identified the movement solely with battling for its removal, and so lost sight of the wider aims of the movement.

What are the issues about which Greypower is concerned?
The uncertainties of the financial situation, especially superannuation
The fall of the dollar and the fluctuations in the value of their investments have left many older people with an increasing sense of insecurity about their financial independence. An accord is urgently needed on superannuation to produce a system which is not a political football for the parties to kick about at election time.

So many elderly people have lost their sense of financial security and greatly fear being unable to pay their way.

The Health System
Hospital closures

The closing of hospitals and/or services in small towns and rural areas means that many elderly people have to travel to a strange environment away from family and friends when they require surgery or more than basic medical care.

Waiting lists
The long delays mean that patients suffer long drawn out pain and limitation of their mobility and independence, where prompt surgery could restore them to their normal lifestyle. Health insurance becomes far more expensive for people over sixty five, yet many people struggle to pay it and have difficulty paying other costs. They feel impelled to keep health insurance because they can no longer trust the public health system.

Most people have lost their sense of security in the health services and greatly fear feeling ill .

The sale of so many houses which were purpose-built to provide homes for those who could not pay market rents and the increase in rentals have left people of all ages living in overcrowded and often insanitary conditions. This has led to an increase in illness, especially the resurgence of infectious diseases like meningitis and tuberculosis which were thought to be a rarity in New Zealand.

Many people fear that they will be unable to pay their rent or their rates and greatly fear eviction from their homes.

Crimes of violence
Crime is increasing in New Zealand with frequent reports of violent offending against elderly people who are less able to protect themselves. At the same time there is great concern in the community as the Government is looking at reducing the size of the police force.

So many people especially the elderly, are losing faith in the ability of the police to protect them and fear that they will be victims of burglary or violent crime.

Changes in the Fire Service
Currently there is great dissension and protest about the changes proposed for the Fire Service and the reduction in the number of firefighters. At the same time there have been increasing incidences of deaths in house fires.

Many people are losing faith in the ability of the Fire Service to rescue them in the event of a house fire and live in fear of a fire in the night.

Electricity costs
The increases in the cost of electricity have strained the budgets of many elderly people. In the winter they must spend much of their time indoors at home. Many stay in bed long hours or sit in the cold because they are frightened of a large electricity bill which they cannot pay. This is worse in the South Island where the temperatures are colder, but the former power differential which took this into account has been cancelled.

Currently there are changes mooted in the supply of electricity, with the stated aim of reducing costs to the consumers. There is unprecedentedly strong opposition to the changes from many quarters. Will the Government listen or are they such devotees of the policy of the economic right that they will carry on regardless? Sectors of the industry oppose the changes and consumers have ceased to trust the promises of the Government in any area. They do not believe in the promised benefits.

Many people believe that changes will only increase charges, and live in fear of an increased electricity bill.

Costs of long term rest home care.
Those who must spend a long time in care worry about the reduction of their assets. Their spouses are reduced to a meagre income before the state pays for the care. These people have paid taxes all their lives believing that New Zealand's former acclaimed Social Security would care for them at the end of their lives. No longer do they feel secure.

So many elderly people faced with debilitating illnesses worry about the costs and live in fear of admission to long term care.

All these issues are on Greypower's agenda.
Greypower is concerned about all these issues and about the Government's current policies which are leaving so many New Zealanders of all ages living in fear.

Greypower gets its message heard by networking with other groups working to improve the lot of the aged, supporting and joining in community protests and lobbying the leaders and Members of Parliament in all parties. They have skilled media representatives and use every possible opportunity to put their message across through the press, the radio and the television.

Greypower believes that people must come first - whatever their age.
The highly acclaimed economic reforms have not worked. The country's financial state has deteriorated, but more importantly the state of many of its citizens has been one of increasing suffering. Greypower sees itself as working for the rights of New Zealanders of all ages - for their children and grandchildren, not just their contemporaries.

If economic change must come, let it be done gradually with due regard to the impact on the people.

Greypower will continue to resist the 'slash and burn' policies of recent Governments.
With the voting power of its numbers political parties must recognise that its voice should be heard and its message heeded. They will find it hard not to listen as the members use their vast pool of skills and show the community that Greypower is vocal, visible and vibrant.

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