Something about Raymond

Did you see that Tropfest short film that came second? The one with the dancing pensioner? Who had two tins of food in his cupboard?

Sure, it was heartwarming seeing an old bloke finding joy in the simple pleasures of dance. But surely it was equally heartbreaking to see the reality of what our elderly have to do to make ends meet.

Raymond Borzelli is 86 and, if we're to believe the short Better than Sinatra, when he opened his kitchen cupboard for the filmmakers, he had just a tin of homebrand spaghetti and one of baked beans.

I can't have been the only person shocked by this, yet the media's eager reporting of the search for Raymond, so he could be gifted $3000 by actor Sam Worthington, seemed to ignore the throbbing sociological heart of the film.

Said Raymond (to camera): "It's very depressing when you run out of money and you've got to be borrowing money. I borrowed 10 dollars out of one chap here and another chap $20 just to keep me buying food up to the next pension cheque. It's very depressing to have to ask for money."

Seriously, how many people do you know with two tins of food in their kitchen? Imagine if you went into your nan's house and found she was subsisting on tinned spaghetti? That she had to borrow money to eat? Would you be mad?

If I was Julian Assange, I'd use Better Than Sinatra as the campaign advertisement for my 2013 Senate run because it's a glaring indictment of how out of step Canberra is with its citizenry.

This is a wealthy country, where our miners tear billions of dollars' worth from the earth (and, yes, create lots of jobs) yet neither major political party can successfully articulate the morality of having them pay their share, so perhaps people like Raymond Borzelli can eat some broccoli once in a while?

The aged pension (maximum) is currently $356 a week, which might sound rather juicy until you factor in rent, power, gas, phone, medicines ... and food and clothing.


Raymond admits to a flutter on the dogs every now and then but says "you've got to have something. When you've got little money, you've got to try and get money somehow".

By his own admission he's "lived a clean life. No liquor, no cigarettes, not drugs at all," so it's not as though the bloke is pissing away his pension at the pub.

In a piece published on Wednesday by Fairfax BusinessDay contributing editor Michael Pascoe, he noted that yesterday (Thursday) was "pay rise day for the nation's age pensioners, when they find out by how much more than the cost of living their incomes will rise. Woe betide any politician who dares question that, but it's a little unfortunate it's not going to be sustainable."

Pascoe goes on to outline the grey bulge heading taxpayers' way as baby boomers hit retirement age.

"The reality is that compulsory superannuation came along too late to save the vast majority of baby boomers from relying on the pension in their retirement," writes Pascoe.

"The average boomer will only have enough to take as a lump sum, pay off a few debts, buy a new car 'to see me out', party a little and 'arrange their affairs' to make sure they receive as much pension as possible. It might not be very wise, but that's pretty much what the system encourages them to do," he writes.

Australia's pension system, as it exists, means you can be sitting on millions worth of real estate and still cop a weekly sling from the government, while people like Raymond get by on $1 loaves of bread and the kindness of friends.

"Taxing the family home or just including it above a reasonable level in the means test, is beyond the stomach of either side of Australian politics no matter how reasonable a policy it may be, given our unwillingness to consider increased taxation," observes Pascoe.

"We can continue to hide from the approaching major battle, concentrate on the skirmishes, the mud pie fights, and ignore what looms until it bites us hard - by which stage policy becomes much harder to implement and inevitably more brutal."

In short, while our pension system is bad now, it's just going to get a lot worse unless we start talking about it and making some serious changes.

I hope you like tinned spaghetti.

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