Blinkered consultant offers serfdom as super-pension reform

The scourge of the neo liberal age is the management consultant type which never actually delivers much of an outcome for anyone, but regularly appears in private sector and public sector workplaces, usually under the guise of doing something ‘strategic’ which involves talking to lots of ‘stakeholders’ but sometimes looking at ‘processes’ and how ‘efficiencies’ could be extracted from these.

This piece from the Fairfax press written by Elizabeth Henderson, who has a law degree, a physics degree, and has completed a course from the Institute of Company Directors – the full bio here – along with some nebulous senior positions with Westpac, some workplace advisory leeches, and Freehills. No problems with any of that but it does give the impression of someone who has never settled in anywhere, and probably isn’t using too much of the physics or the legal qualifications in hanging out her shingle as a management consultant.  In this piece she is looking to cement in the idea that people will have to work longer, which isn’t fundamentally a bad proposition, but she lacks the vision to look at the whole box and dice when it comes to superannuation, pensions, and Australia’s taxation settings, budget outlays structure, and immigration levels.

My children and I were born into different technological worlds but one thing we have in common is none of us had heard of a fax machine until our early teens. My daughter once asked “Mum, what’s a fax?” I could’ve asked the same question at her age. Although 1990s office workers couldn’t imagine working without one, in truth barely a generation relied on the fax for any meaningful period.

Australians today can’t imagine working without retiring, spending decades of healthy, active years not needing to work.

In the late 19th century, half of American men aged 80, and three-quarters of British men over 65, worked and only a minority lived that long to begin with. Most people worked until they died. A recent ad features a child and his grandfather visiting a museum exhibit of a couple driving in a convertible. “What are they doing grandpa?” the child asks. “They’re in retirement,” grandpa responds longingly. Grandpa may well have had to explain the exhibit to his own grandfather too.

Elizabeth has a problem with evolution. Call me crazy, but I tend to the view that when it comes to inventions and ways of doing things, evolution tends to lead to better simpler easier ways of doing things, and so it is with the fax machine.

If Elizabeth had thought to go back beyond the fax machine for maybe thirty years or so she would find a few interesting things:

1. That there were loads of people using carbon paper in typewriters and smudging their fingers stabbing invoices, receipts and the like onto spiked trays, and

2. The majority of the people doing this type of work were women, and

3. It was probably the only type of work the women could get, and

4. It was expected they would probably spend most of their lives at home looking after family.

Since the early 1990s the fax has largely been replaced by email, and digital imagery and electronic signatures. As someone who manages a workplace where there is still need to deal with carbon copies, holed pieces of paper from the distant past, and facsimile machines, I am firmly in the ‘this is a major improvement in doing business’ school. As a former workplace relations man I would also observe that the demise of the typing pool and rise of women throughout the workplace outside the typing pool is generally a good thing.

Elizabeth then makes the conceptual leap from the supersession of the fax machine to the take up of the late 19th century as the direction we are heading when sorting out retirements for the populace. She is quite right that a century ago pensions barely existed, and that large numbers of men worked into their dotage in the US and UK – though she omits to mention that women almost universally did not do paid work in that era, and she doesn’t mention returning to a late 19th century female participation rate, nor go within a bulls roar of looking outside the English speaking world.

‘Most people worked until they died’ is the message Elizabeth is looking to sell, possibly with the addition ‘that’s all any of you should expect, too’ – and in doing so she presumably wants to earn her consultancy a fee for writing something some corporate client would like to tell the world, loud and clear.

The corporate clients want to tell the world this loud and clear because they don’t want to pay tax to fund those retirements, after a generation of selling the line that workplace should be more flexible, but that people can take on more debt because they are working longer, and generally being of the view that the dividends from any efficiency should go to the shareholders, who should be free to treat employees as chattels.

After the fax machine and the reference to the late 19th century she wheels out a reference to a recent advert featuring someone’s grandpa. This is interesting because many peoples grandpas are at this moment on particularly generous pensions, made even more generous by the tax free status of a house they bought in the 1970s which is now worth more than a million dollars, often after setting up SMSFs or negatively gearing real estate to avoid paying taxes for a large slab of their lives – and they think that is an entitlement.

Elizabeth’s basic contention is that in order to free her clients from the need to pay tax people entering (or in?) the workforce today should be anticipating working until they drop, while still providing entitlements for those retirees already in the banana lounge. It sounds like bullshit, and it is.

Australia introduced the aged pension in the early 1900s when life expectancy at birth for men was 55 and for women, 60. If you made it to pension age, and most didn’t, you’d expect to live on the pension for no more than a decade.

The Inter-Generational Report uses forecasts that factor in life expectancy increases during a person’s lifetime. Using this data, a 60-year-old Australian today can expect to live to their late 80s, a child to their 90s. That’s averages. Half of Australia’s children today will probably live past 100.

Australians are living longer, and are likely to continue to live longer, thus making it all the more important that we sort out some way of funding their existences and providing them with meaningful jobs, is the point Elizabeth wants to make.

I’m from the first cohort of Australians to have superannuation their whole working life, accumulating it since my late teens with little time out of full-time work since finishing university. Super was supposed to work for me. Yet there’s no way I could retire in my 60s and avoid the pension, let alone maintain similar quality of life. It’s not due to poor returns or exorbitant fees. The key variables are retirement age, retirement savings and age of death. We can only influence the first two and the third is galloping ahead at such a pace that massive adjustments are required to the other two.

When she says ‘It’s not due to poor returns or exorbitant fees,’ she means that pension beneficiaries have in many instances been avoiding paying tax through SMSFs or negatively gearing, taking their superannuation entitlements as a lump sum and blowing this or stashing it in such a way as to retain entitlement to the aged pension, while at the same time the contribution side has never been made as large as it should have due to conservative governments baulking at increasing the mandatory contribution, and governments from both sides baulking at bringing the family home into the asset basket used to determine how much pension people get.

They still get quite a lot of they are millionaires – even after recent changes.



Similarly Elizabeth doesn’t look at any other mechanisms for funding retirements (eg land tax, reverse mortgages). It is also worth mentioning that through the entire piece there is no mention of what all these people will actually do to earn their keep, amidst thoughts that large numbers of jobs will simply be made redundant through automation, and at what point low wages or part time work ceases to make sense vis a vis the vicissitude of age.  Meanwhile back at the ranch.

In their book The 100-Year Life, Linda Gratton and Andrew Scott consider the implications of longevity on retirement scenarios for different generations. Their modelling demonstrates the post-war generation could achieve a reasonable retirement income with affordable savings during their working lives, supplemented by corporate and government pensions.

Yep, and they generally had cheap housing, and being in the workplace during the era when mass credit (debt) was made available they got first access to it, bid up the prices of assets, and now are in a position to enforce subsequent generations to do then same.

However, someone born in 1971 with a life expectancy of 85 and retiring at 65 would need to save about 17 per cent per annum to retire on half their final salary, assuming they get a modest aged pension from the government. Quite confronting considering Australia’s compulsory super rate is 9.5 per cent per annum and the Inter-Generational Report predicts someone born in the early ’70s will live closer to 90.
For someone my age, retiring at 65 essentially requires income earned from two thirds of my adult life to stretch over the remaining third.

No wonder the system is buckling under its own weight for Generation X.

Elizabeth does have a valid point here. The system as it is currently set up makes absolutely no sense whatsoever for anyone under the age of 50. If we had political leadership in this country we would expect policy changes, but the current regime (and opposition) is largely about running the current system until it simply seizes up, and enjoying the parliamentary perks until that moment arrives.

The answer is to fund the superannuation system properly, to make it work as an actual savings system (as opposed to a tax avoidance system), include the principal place of residence as part of the basis for calculation of access to the government funded pension, and to remove incentives to take lump sums and blow the cash. Beyond that there is a case for working out what careers will gainfully keep people occupied as they get older, making it worthwhile for them to continue working, and assisting and promoting people taking up opportunities to do so.

Increasing the pension age to 70 (well below what’s realistic) should be a no-brainer, not a political football. The complaint that workers in physical jobs can’t keep working past their 60s or re-skill doesn’t stack up. Medical advances are not only increasing life expectancy but also leaving people fitter and healthier for longer. Anyway, exponential growth in technology wand automation means regular re-skilling will be the norm for 21st century humans, whether they’re 65 or 35.

Yep, I would even buy this but Elizabeth is missing the strategic picture. Australia currently has a taxation structure which rewards avoiding tax – capital gains taxes, negative gearing, SMSFs, PPOR concessions etc. Getting rid of the distortions and enabling people to make choices on the best allocation through life, and particularly underpinning a framework which makes home ownership – which has been demonstrated to reduce health and aged care costs for the elderly – cheap and accessible, rather than a cash cow for governments and a ticket clipping exercise for the FIRE sector.

Get rid of this and the super system will work better – more:

A bigger political challenge is restructuring super so it works. Tinkering with tax rates and concessions, contributions caps and limits doesn’t address structural deficiencies caused by 21st century demographics. A more fundamental problem is people accessing super two or three decades below their life expectancy. Or whether it’s realistic for people to lock money away for 60 years, in what more resembles a time capsule than an investment. Especially with politicians licking their chops to get their hands on it either through taxes or by forcing super funds to invest in pet projects.

The bigger political challenge is ultimately going to be to front up to the public and identify this equation, and at that point work out who has dibs on the proceeds, or to sell the idea that we need to contribute massively more to the superannuation system. For sure there is a case for saying that people may need to work longer, but at the same time there is a case for saying that we may not have the jobs to give them anyway, which means that we approach the point of working out if society is a by-product of the capitalist system.

Concepts like a Universal Basic Income or altering the way the superannuation system is used over a lifetime, e.g for funding education, business start ups and home ownership, like an actual savings and investment scheme.

There needs to be a whole new look at wealth creation, wealth distribution, taxation, and the allocation of government monies, and the role of people in that – and that is before we get around to the question of how many more people we need.

Most likely, we’ll choose to return to our forbears’ practice of working as long as we can. Like the fax machine, “retirement” may prove to be a transitory innovation.

Well that maybe the case but only if we tell ourselves that we can’t think of a better way. Given that much of the world is coming out of third world status on the back of globalism, it would be truly Trumpetarian if the best that the management elite could do is tell us that for that to happen we need to send our aged back into neo-feudal serfdom to survive.  And if that is the message then enlisting today’s teenagers to contribute to society may be a hell of a tough ask.

And if we are looking for some vision in order to address the issues of today and tomorrow, it is probably best to be very, very careful in the choice of management consultants. It would seem that some don’t have much.


  1. Nice evisceration. The sickening thing is that all those consultants would nod and agree with her because it is dogma. Her fax machine metaphor may have been given her by Fairfax editors: they do that to contributors, to make it easy for the readers, despite questions over sequence and logic.


      Good stuff Nyleta!
      “The first, is while markets have risen over time, the markets spend roughly 95% of their time making up for previous losses. ”

      Also, expecting drones too with a simultaneous citizen infantry.

      • A drone attack on what? A small office in the Cayman Island’s with a telephone in it and a single secretary acting as ACME corp with the sole purpose of providing a shelf company? Well… that might work actually.. haha.

        On a serious note, the only way the system (capitalism) is going to work going forward is if there is an international agreement that hiding money offshore for the sole purpose of avoiding tax is no longer acceptable. The problem is getting all countries to agree…

      • @Gavin
        Historically, when the ‘people’ reach their surfeit of intolerance, it is the acting government that feels the wrath. Rightly or wrongly ( usually rightly) it will be this group that first notices the unmistakeable and very unnerving red ‘dot’ both on their person and in the distance.
        Sidebar: based on what we’re currently seeing (enjoying) with the parliamentary members and their ‘attitude’ towards the responsibility of governing, we’re probably not far away from some sort of shakedown. How far ‘these’ go is very hard to predict.

  2. Ronin8317MEMBER

    The converse of the proposition to ‘work til you die’ is even worse : anyone without a job should just die.

  3. Gunna correctly pointed out that the system does not make sense for anyone under 50.

    My prediction of what is going to happen is class warfare will look more like, well, warfare. Or in other words, when the someone has nothing to lose, they lose it.

    One astonishing thing about my fellow Australians is that, despite of our glorification of violence in sport as a society and the willingness to have a punch up at the pup, we are quite slow to actually lash out at the oppressors. Subconscious memories of the colonial past, I suppose.

    • An Adler 5 shot still a worthy adversary in close.

      I know its a joke but could you keep reference to firearms to a bare minimum. The last thing we want is some aggrieved loon going ape with a gun.

      For all your spam management queries feel free to contact [email protected]

    • One astonishing thing about my fellow Australians is that, despite of our glorification of violence in sport as a society and the willingness to have a punch up at the pup, we are quite slow to actually lash out at the oppressors. Subconscious memories of the colonial past, I suppose.

      Temporarily Embarassed Millionaire Syndrome. Nothing surprising about it at all. The oppressors have put a lot of effort in over the last few decades on a consistent message of “no, it’s not us, we’re just like you [could be] – you want those guys over there trying to oppress us [and therefore potentially you]”.

    • robert2013MEMBER

      Your idea of what an Australian is is way out of date. There are few punch ups at the pub these days, and your average “Australian” has no sub conscious colonial memories because they are probably a first or second generation immigrant with the right to a foreign passport.

  4. She reminds me of the same smug wankers that dont give two thoughts to the people who lose their jobs to hordes of 457’s or their job is outsourced to India. All superior, holier than thou with nothing but condescending smirks for the unfortunates, just deal with it attitude. That is until their useless paper shuffling job is outsourced.

    • adelaide_economist

      Agreed. Only someone who actually believes none of this will impact on them could so breezily write about it like she does. One example: the way she dismisses the way some workers (for example, manual labourers) can’t be expected to work until they are 85 or 90. It’s all well and good to suggest they can ‘retrain’ and point to technological marvels but since it’s never happened in history to date, could she at least humour us and give us some concrete examples of how some labourer with a busted back is going to become a computer programmer at the age of 55?

      • I fall into the aging labourer with a broken back category. While I am retraining, slowly, it’s hard going. Not only do I need to learn new skills, I need to change the way I look, speak and act to fit into the skilled (non heavy labour) workforce. Getting a new qualification I fear is only half the battle.. It’s like moving into a different world. Nor one I really like, but what’s the alternative? My body is wrecked and it’s getting increasingly difficult to complete with international students that will work for much less.

  5. adelaide_economist

    Just had a look at her bio and her company website and – no offence intended – it’s pretty much the standard consultant website.

    I’ve had reason to read more than a few of these in recent months and I’ve got to say my eyes glaze over within seconds. Without exception they are full of buzz words and descriptions of skills that frankly mean nothing. In a couple of cases I was fairly familiar with the consultants from previous work lives and the presentation of their skills and interests just seemed unbelievably vague.

    I accept there’s an element of commercial confidentiality in what some of them do as well as a certain amount of ‘wrangling’ involved which is why the ‘what we/I do’ bit is often vague but still… some concrete examples might help.

    Also not a fan of the ‘everything in third person’ description style or the words implying it’s a bigger deal than it is. I mean, who gives themselves a title of Executive Director when it seems there’s no other professional staff involved.

    I still think you have to question where someone is coming from when they look at the structure of the workforce, the emerging financial pressures and inject a bit of future projection in and come up with ‘it’s A-OK guys, everyone will just work longer like they used to! Remember restocking thermal paper in the fax machine… lol’.

  6. What are these jobs that are going to soak up all the ageing workers and keep them employed until they drop? There are far from enough jobs as it is and it seems highly improbable there will be more, not less, in the next few decades.

    I wonder if the Govt might become the biggest employer? Maybe act as an employment agency for the unemployed? Broker the required work from companies and allocate to its population, as well as creating projects of its own to employ people. Better than the mass unemployment and welfare drain that will otherwise happen. People can choose how much they want to work and get paid more or less.

    Of course, this is likely to require higher taxation on those who actually do private sector work…

  7. People have trouble finding work around the current retirement age. Why do these people think that working till you drop is actually possible, even if you wanted to do it?

  8. As a 37 year old I guess the question is – what do I do?

    I understand the sentiment that super/ pensions probably don’t make sense for anyone under 50. I personally feel pension pots the world over are ripe for the picking from desperate governments either via significantly increased taxation or forcibly investing part of your pot in “government projects”

    However super/pension does have some attractive tax benefits. Moreso since I’m working in the UK at the moment and contributions and invesment gains are subject to no tax.

    I see no other option for young people to put money into their retirement fund, the alternative is property and we all know how attractive that is at the moment

    (Actually given I’m expecting to return to Perth one day investing in property there may not be a bad idea in the next 12 months!! )

  9. Elizabeth Hendersssson. Another “Educated Yet Idiot” who can turn word soup into a five star dish.

    I am very grateful to MB commentator Hector for pointing us to the William Burroughs experimental style of “Beat” writing in the 50’s. The “cut up” involves taking several documents and literally cutting them up and splicing them together. The result is a strange type of prose that seems a bit crazy, but still has meaning preserved and occassionally injects some thing profound or new. Mostly just crazy.

    It has occurred to me that with the rise of the word processor, we are seeing this style all over the internet. Pieces like the one above from Ms Henderssson are a good example. Cut and Paste ideas. The syntax is correct, the spelling is perfect and in a small section it seems to make sense. It is only when you try to see the overview that it is apparent that this is a jumbled hodge podge of half baked memes, biased double think and plain stupidity. The saving grace is that most readers will be similar wool heads to the author, and pick out a few things they like and ignore the rest.

    Go back past 50 years and read what great people wrote. Churchill, Russell, AMerican Statesmen, the Brontes. It is chalk and cheese. The english language used to be an elegant tool of great precision. Now it is soup.

    • Hemingway taught the world how to write. Today’s journalistic style is cover for sophistry, thinly disguised as neoliberal erudition.

    • adelaide_economist

      Thanks for bringing that to our attention.

      The post by the nurse was absolutely spot on (in fact nursing is often forgotten as a job that has huge physical demands) and the response was more or less ‘here’s one factory where old people are employed’ and the evergreen ‘don’t tell me what I know!’. OK, and the reams of research and experience of employers discriminating against older workers, let alone ones without a career history in that particular type of employment? I wonder if one of her experiences ever touched on the ‘anecdote is not evidence’ thingy.

      But the worst bit are the one-liners high fiving her. Exactly why I abandoned linkedin.

      • Slightly ironically, nursing is one type of job that has greater longevity than most (as do health industry jobs in general) but there are limits.

  10. “Increasing the pension age to 70 (well below what’s realistic) should be a no-brainer, not a political football. The complaint that workers in physical jobs can’t keep working past their 60s or re-skill doesn’t stack up.”

    What a total load of crap ! My brother just died at age 68 after working to age 65. He’s not the only one & most manual workers are pretty well knackered any time over the age of 60. Age 65 is long enough for most — if change need to be made it certainly shouldn’t involve stretching out the Pension age. Get a grip !

    • Well said. My personal opinion is you ignore the laws of nature at your peril. As animals, productivity naturally falls towards the end of one’s life before hitting zero at death. Late years are a time to acknowledge frailties and enjoy the fruits of one’s previous labours, imo.

  11. A fax machine? I can trump that (no pun intended) as I remember clustering around the old telex machine peering down the front of the operator’s dress and waiting with abated breath while a message clacked out in front of us at the speed of a long distance call.

    But this consultant is having a bit of a wank. Fax machines are still used by legal folks and the banksters who will not accept a scanned copy via email because ……… well, I’m not sure why but that’s the way it is. Jeez even Centrelink and the ATO accept scans, but well, they would, wouldn’t they considering their business acumen is south of the local hairdresser – no offence intended, my hairdresser is a source of valuable community gossip.

    I’m over this intergenerational wrestling over the scraps left to us by the 1% – every time we engage on this stuff I want to use the bathroom. Anyway has anyone heard the definition of a management consultant is someone you ask to tell you the time by looking at your own watch? They are an irrelevance. They add no more value than asking the tea lady/man to advise on your investment portfolio. The only gap they fill is to provided some nefarious justification for dim witted senior mangers to get an “independent” (splurk!) view of something because their even dumber CEO who has been asked by the even dumber than dumb board members can procrastinate over a decision of which they haven’t got a farking clue. It’s emulated in the private and public sectors and is rife in the bureaucracy, adding zero value except a “get out of jail” pass when the result of the purchased decision turns to shite. Lederhosen for senior dimwits.

  12. The whole Automation or Robotics meme is starting to lose its potency, due to people figuring out its just a smoke screen to cover up the complete failure of neoliberalism to create meaningful jobs for citizens w/ reasonable productivity ratios between floor and executive, duration, and quality, by which to establish a tax base and functional society.

  13. Douglas Adams regarded Telephone Hygienists as redundant. However, we cannot anticipate violence against them in future troubled times. Management consultants however….

    • Management consultant…..what an illustrative piece of phraseology to use as a demonstration of oxymoronacy.
      the manager deserving his title, needs no consultant
      the consultant worth his salt will find a niche managing.

      birds of a feather shit in they’re own nest

  14. Sure. Bring the family home into means testing for the pension. For a site that spends a lot of column inches raging about governments wanting to expand the property bubble, this seems bizarre. It’s just another reason to keep that bubble frothy. Not only that, the reason why these OAPs are sitting on million dollar properties is due to government maladministration and meddling.

    And reverse mortgages? Wonderful idea. Who should we hand the admin of that over to? The government? Who will inevitably hand that job over (on efficiency grounds) to the same bankers who have recently been embroiled in either benchmark rate fixing or financial advisory corruption and malpractice, and we’ll find that, when it all turns to snot (as it always does), that Grandpa Walker no longer owns the title to his house, but it now belongs to some vulture fund incorporated in the Cayman Islands, and you now have one week to leave thanks.

    As for Elizabeth, it’s always shiny arsed chair polishers who think working to 80’s a great thing. Ask someone who’s spent 40 years doing actual work what they think of it.

  15. As a graphic designer it’s always satisfying when these vacuous shills unwittingly use terrible company logos and loose websites done on the cheap. They are pretending to be bourgeoisie, when they are just petit. Little emperors with no clothes.

  16. Option D: Take your superannuation and move to a beach in Asia where you can live on $10 a day.

  17. Medical advances are not only increasing life expectancy but also leaving people fitter and healthier for longer.

    If anyone cares to look up the average age of disability (rather than life expectancy) then they will probably find that this age is decreasing rather than increasing.

    Not that disability necessarily prevents someone from working but claiming that people are fitter and healthier for longer is just making up fiction.

  18. exponential growth in technology wand automation means regular re-skilling will be the norm for 21st century humans, whether they’re 65 or 35

    Or more accurately, regular de-skilling which will come with regular de-waging.