More weight should be given to the future wellbeing of young Australians in all debates about spending on their elders, argues the leading journalist.

Laurie Oakes
Laurie Oakes

The concerns of older Australians are in the headlines again. As I write this, another heated debate about superannuation tax arrangements is firing up politicians and dominating talkback radio.

This is no surprise. Anything that might affect benefits enjoyed by the elderly, particularly involving pensions or super, inevitably stirs up strong feelings.

But, as I watch the political scene from the vantage point of retirement after more than half a century of reporting on it, it strikes me that there is a double standard when it comes to challenges faced by young Australians.

They don’t seem to attract the same attention or arouse similar passion.

Youth unemployment is a case in point.

That the jobless rate for those aged 15 to 24 is more than double the overall rate of unemployment should be a matter of enormous concern.

So should the fact that something close to a fifth of the youth labour force is underemployed – having some hours of work but wanting more. This is because today’s young people are far more likely to be in casual and part-time jobs than those who went before them.

Reduced employment opportunities now rank high on any list of difficulties faced by young Australians. The long-term economic and social implications are obvious.

But where is the sense of urgency? The calls for action? The kind of emotion that accompanies any discussion of issues impacting on us oldies?

That the Brotherhood of St. Laurence sees a need for a Youth Unemployment Monitor to raise and maintain awareness of the problem underlines my point.

Since retiring last year, I have thought often about how fortune smiled on my generation.

When we embarked on our working lives, there was no shortage of employment options. For the most part we had the advantage of steady economic growth. And, as we aged, governments increasingly adopted spending policies that benefited older Australians.

It worries me, though, that things are already much tougher for the emerging generation – the generation that includes my grandchildren – even at the basic level of finding a productive place within society.

And that anxiety is made worse by warnings that this generation is likely to end up with a lower standard of living than its parents and grandparents.

If that happens, the unsustainable way governments have transferred wealth from younger to older Australians will be partly to blame.

And so will today’s oldies themselves because of our readiness to jump up and down and use our political clout to protect and enhance our benefits, regardless of the cost to future generations unable to apply the same pressure.

Not only should we give the youth unemployment issue higher priority. In my view, we should also give more weight to the future well-being of young Australians in all our arguments about spending on their elders.

Laurie Oakes worked in the Canberra Press Gallery from 1969 to 2017. He was the long-time political editor of the Nine Network until he retired.

This column first appeared in the Brotherhood of St. Laurence’s Youth Unemployment Monitor March 2018.