Above: The PM, Julia Gillard turns the big 5-0 today
By Yasmin Noone
Australia’s leading lady, Prime Minister Julia Gillard, might have the power to access pretty much any social group she likes but up until now there is one group to which she has been denied official membership – the ‘50-club’, also affectionately known as the ‘new 40-club’.
Born in 1961, Gillard will today celebrate her 50th birthday and be recognised by National Seniors Australia as a prospective member.
She will also join the likes of the music industry’s Madonna, U2’s The Edge and country singer, Billy Ray Cyrus; the USA’s political figure of the moment, Barack Obama; action man Jean Claude van Damme; world athlete and Olympic medal winner, Carl Lewis; and the 80s pinup star, Michael J Fox, in reaching the milestone age this year.
Not unlike other successful 50 year olds before her, Gillard technically has the country at her feet. The Russian writer, Leo Tolstoy who also became famous for his views on religion, converted to Christianity at age 50 while Barbra Streisand won a 10-year film and recording contract estimated at $60 million at the same age.
“…National Seniors would just like to say: Happy birthday Prime Minister, the membership form’s in the mail!”
As a member of National Seniors, Mr O’Neill explained that Ms Gillard would be entitled to advocacy on issues that impact upon her age-group and commercial benefits like special travel deals and discount movie tickets.
“Maybe she can go to the movies with Tim?” Mr O’Neill said.
On a more serious note, Mr O’Neill, would like to remind the PM that joining the 50-club is not as glamorous for every senior as it is for the stars and politicians, and asks that she pay due regard to the important issues facing people her age and a great deal older.
“For many Australians turning 50 means facing the challenges of …juggling young kids and ageing parents,” he said.
“The other issue is around financial planning for the later years. It is probably a time when people have most of the mortgage paid and they are at the peak of their earning capacity, have the kids off their hands and are putting cash away for retirement.”
However, unemployment is also a serious issue for people aged 50 and over. Mr O’Neill estimates that following unemployment (for reasons like redundancy, termination or perhaps a change of government), the average time without work to follow will be around 63 weeks. Australians in their 20s, on average, remain unemployed for around two thirds of that time.
Given that she ordered the Productivity Commission to conduct an inquiry into the economics behind aged care and is due to embark on reform this term of government, Mr O’Neill said Ms Gillard has done well to forward the interests of the ageing and older population.
Although many would beg to differ about the true age that one becomes a ‘senior’, Mr O’Neill explains his organisation’s definition is a historical one.
“National Seniors has been around 36 years. In 1976, attitudes to ageing and being 50 were different. At 50 you were a long way into your life.
“The meaning of being 50 today is a whole lot different than what it was in even 1990.
“Nowadays, we [experience] a much longer working life and live longer…well into your 90s.
“People are turning 50 with a different outlook and have much different prospects in going forward. It used to be a sign that later life was upon you but now, it’s said that 50 is the new 40.”
A spokesman for Ms Gillard’s office told the consumer lobby group that the PM will be spending the day with her feet firmly on the ground – at her office.
“It will be a normal working day and she will have dinner with her partner (Tim Mathieson) at the end of it,” the spokesman said.
As for birthday gifts, the PM is expected to receive from Mr Mathieson a cavoodle – a cross between a King Charles Spaniel and a poodle.
“There is a puppy on the way but it’s not weaned yet,” according to the spokesman.
There was no word on how the Prime Minister feels about turning 50 – does she dread it or, like many of us, does she regard 50 as the new 40?
Many would also question the life expectancy of her prime ministership.
The spokesperson said that Ms Gillard is likely to be silent on the latter question, but may have something to say about her age sometime today.