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12 Dec 2019 20:02
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  •   Home > News > International

    So many baby boomers are retiring this doctor quit his job to go build them luxury homes

    Australia is at a demographic tipping point, with baby boomers retiring in record numbers and the economy struggling to replace them in the workforce.

    Australia is at a demographic tipping point.

    Baby boomers are retiring in record numbers and providing for their needs is proving to be one of the few economic bright spots.

    It was such a big opportunity that Bevan Geissmann gave up his suburban medical practice to develop luxury homes for retiring boomers.

    "I was a GP in a local town halfway between Brisbane and the Gold Coast," he told 7.30.

    "I did nursing home visits, I did retirement villages and you saw that there was something that was missing in the market.

    "As they say, the rest was history."

    Baby boomers a booming market

    With a business partner, Dr Geissmann founded Halcyon, which runs gated communities for the over 50s in South-East Queensland

    "What the modern retiree is looking for is really an upgrading of their lifestyle," he said.

    "They want to forget having to do repairs, having to mow the lawn, all those things that if you lived in the suburbs and you had kids you had to do."

    Numbering more than 5 million, the baby boomers are one of Australia's largest population groups.

    And the Halcyon housing model is attracting them in droves.

    Over the past five years, business has doubled and is expected to double again in the next five years.

    "South-East Queensland … it's the Florida of Australia," Dr Geissmann said.

    "We have the lifestyle, we have strong demographics, great infrastructure."

    But the wave of retirements is also contributing to a slowing of the economy.

    Older people consume less and save more, which drives down inflation and interest rates — not a good outcome for retirees who are living off savings.

    Baby boomers are forecast to cost the Government $36 billion a year by 2028, more than Medicare.

    It is projected that in less than 40 years there will be 8.8 million older Australians who are no longer contributing to the Government's coffers by paying income tax. That will be 22 per cent of the population, up from just 15 per cent at the moment.

    "The older the population is, the more people are on welfare benefits, we need more health care, and there's a smaller base to pay the taxes," Dean of Melbourne Business School, Professor Ian Harper, told 7.30.

    Population growth — or lack of it

    Compounding the economic impact of the boomers' retirement is the fact that there are not enough people to replace them in the workforce.

    That is because Australians just are not having babies like they used to.

    Cam and Elly Selby have a two-year-old daughter, Luca. But that is it, they are not planning to have any more.

    That is partly an economic choice.

    "I want to be able, when she's older, to help her buy a house," Mr Selby told 7.30.

    "If you times that by two or three, it definitely wouldn't work out.

    "A lot of people say that we'll change our mind," Ms Selby said.

    "We definitely discussed it but the cons just are too high."

    Gerard Minack, an economist and principal at Minack Associates, said when compared with the boomer generation, the economic choices of recent generations are much more limited.

    "Well, young Australians are facing a hell of a hill," he told 7.30.

    "They are coming out of universities with a much larger debt than their parents did and they are going to have to buy in the most expensive housing market in the world.

    "All against a backdrop of a negative income growth.

    "It's a trifecta that's pretty tough for them."

    Immigration tipped to drive growth

    The one demographic upside for the economy is immigration.

    "This is something which has driven our growth," RBA board member Ian Harper told 7.30.

    "Certainly over the last 50 [years] it's driven our growth substantially.

    "And it will do so again."

    Avtar Singh first came to Australia as a student in 1997.

    "[I came] pretty much with nothing — two suitcases with $1,500 cash," he told 7.30.

    "And from that my journey began [to] where I am today."

    He is one of hundreds of thousands of migrants who have made Australia home in the past 30 years.

    A joint analysis by Treasury and the Home Affairs Department earlier this year found that migration added between 0.5 and 1 percentage point annually to GDP.

    "I think every migrant comes here with something special in them, because they want to try here," Mr Singh's wife Satinder said.

    That certainly was the case for Mr Singh.

    "In 2011 I bought my first Domino's Pizza store," he said.

    "I think I had 35-40 people at the time.

    "I think I contributed by giving them an opportunity which I had when I came as a student.

    "Every migrant has gone through that journey and they're successful because they work hard."

    But high immigration levels also mean that more people want work.

    That, in turn, means there is no need for employers to give people pay rises to keep them on.

    "The biggest single problem since the GFC 10 years ago is that we have struggled to get any income or wage growth," Mr Minack said.

    "Why is that? A massive increase in labour supply."

    Productivity the key

    Accounting and consulting giant PWC says one of the few reforms left that could stimulate economic growth is workforce participation.

    It analysed data on younger workers, females workers and older workers from across the OECD.

    It claims that Australia has the potential to boost GDP by 12 per cent if it matched Sweden's workforce participation in those three categories.

    It argues for policies to overcome age and gender discrimination, more vocational training for all age groups, the retraining of older workers to help them adapt to new technologies, better access to child care and increased workplace flexibility.

    Professor Harper is sure Australia is up for the challenge.

    "You know, various changes are occurring here," he said.

    "But at the end of the day, can we survive? The answer is, yes.

    "Because productivity growth is determined by ideas and innovation.

    "That's stimulated by more and different people, but not completely dependent upon that."

    Watch Alan Kohler's four-part special on the economy on 7.30, Monday to Thursday this week.

    © 2019 ABC Australian Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved

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