Mark Sainsbury: Politics has ruined any chance of a decent superannuation debate

OPINION: Superannuation is designed to ensure our seniors have some dignity in old age. But it is something our politicians stuff with at their peril.

Remember the 1980s? After promising not to touch National Super, Labour brought in a surtax under David Lange that whacked the additional income you earned on top of your Super.

It was their death knell. In many ways it was the smart-arse sophistry of the move, really giving superannuitants the finger by saying, 'See? We didn't tax your super, just everything else you earn instead.'

I remember my dad at the time - who reminded us he had been paying social welfare all his life - saying this was what he thought was funding his pension and that he accepted change may have to come, but was so angry at the dishonest and sneaky way Labour brought it in. He could never take then-Social Welfare Minister Ann Hercus seriously again after that.

It was a lesson no-one ever forgot. Winston Peters' advocacy for the super is the secret to his success and the reason the other parties hate the Gold Card with a vengeance (not its purpose, but merely its connection to Winston).

And now, here we go again  the Retirement Commissioner Diane Maxwell along with everyone, it seems, except John Key and Winston Peters, agree it's not affordable and changes need to be made. People work longer for a start, so many don't need it as early.

But how to have this debate without the rancour and political opportunism?

Because it is political; you can bet your booty it is. Peters has said he would rule out a coalition with National if they raised the retirement age.

Read the language here carefully - he says he won't renege on promises made to the retired and soon-to-be-retired. But what about those retiring way out there? Could the age be eased up, as the Retirement Commissioner says it should, up to 67 by 2035?

It's those damn Baby Boomers again and the bulge in demand caused by them has to be faced up to.

And the other factor here is immigrants. You come to this country after 10 years, you qualify for $769.52 a week in your pocket (or $591.94 if you're married). After 10 years!

That's one of the cushiest deals in the OECD and it needs to be looked at, otherwise we will become the pension provider of choice for many countries - just get in here and retire after 10 years.

I am prepared to see my eligibility pushed out - I am not sitting on the mother lode in case you're wondering - but I can work longer. Maybe others aren't in that position.

Mark Sainsbury hosts Morning Talk from 9am-midday on RadioLIVE.