Financial Literacy and Superannuation Awareness of Indigenous Australians: Pilot Study Results

Article excerpt

Introduction

The financial exclusion of Indigenous Australians has been identified as a product of a lack of physical access to financial services and low levels of financial literacy (McDonnell 2003). The past decade has seen a greater focus on improving financial literacy across the Australian population, evidenced most prominently by the Federal Government's establishment of the Financial Literacy Foundation in 2005. The National Indigenous Money Management Agenda (NIMMA) is the most prominent evidence of a coordinated attempt to address Indigenous needs in respect of improving both financial literacy and access to financial products and services. This group is the result of a partnership between Reconciliation Australia and Commonwealth Department of Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs. NIMMA (2007: 19) highlights the Improving Banking and Financial Services meeting in 2002, which brought together key groups in partnership, as an important step in this process. The meeting identified the need for a "partnership between government, indigenous organisations and financial institutions" (NIMMA 2007: 19). The establishment of the Indigenous Banking Reference Group (IBRG) in 2005 provided the collaborative expertise necessary to oversee the NIMMA project and provide input and advice (NIMMA 2007: 20).

The Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC), the peak agency responsible for protection of investors in respect of financial products and services, has acknowledged the specific requirements of Indigenous Australians through proposed good practice principles for Indigenous consumer education programs (Australian Securities and Investments Commission 2002b). In addition, ASIC is a key agency in developing A National Indigenous Consumer Strategy: Action Plan 2005-2010 (National Indigenous Consumer Action Plan Implementation Group, 2005). Considerable progress has been made in the development and provision of education resources to improve financial literacy among Indigenous Australians. For example, whereas in 1999 few education materials were targeted at Indigenous consumers (Financial Services Consumer Policy Centre 1999), the Financial Literacy Foundation (2008) identifies nine programmes and fifteen resources targeted for Indigenous Australians.

Over the same time period superannuation has assumed greater importance for Australians as a means for ensuring adequacy of retirement incomes. The direction of successive government policies has been to shift responsibility for retirement income provision from government to individuals. More recently government policy has also promoted greater choice for individuals in where to direct retirement savings in terms of choice of superannuation funds and investment strategies. With the notable exception of Pragnell (2002), discussion of these superannuation policies and associated issues has been silent on its relevance to, and impact on, Indigenous people. An obvious issue is the shorter life expectancy of Indigenous Australians. Estimates vary but there is approximately a 10 to 17 year difference between male life expectancy for Indigenous Australians and that for males in the general population. Over the period 1996-2001 male Indigenous life expectancy was approximately 59 years (Human Rights & Equality Opportunity Commission 2006). Hence Indigenous Australians are likely to receive limited benefit from savings which are generally not accessible until the individual reaches preservation age, which at present is 60 years of age for those born after Ist July 1964. In the 2009 Federal Budget it was announced that the age at which the age pension could we accessed would be progressively raised from 65 to 67. In the wake of this announcement various commentators suggested that the preservation age for superannuation should be the same as the access age for the age pension. While the government has indicated they have no plans to implement this suggestion any move in that direction would clearly increase the disadvantage experienced by Indigenous Australians, unless there are very significant improvements in life expectancy. …

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