There's nothing in this election for young people


Photo: Raphye Alexius

People seem to be surprised that figures from the Australian Electoral Commission show almost one in five young people (18-24 year olds) haven't enrolled to vote – nearly double the number for the rest of the population.

But can anyone really be that shocked? So far Labor is pitching gay marriage and the national broadband network as youth vote winners. The Liberals have offered up Bernadette Black for the seat of Franklin in Tasmania.

Politics is about electing leaders whom we entrust with our basic welfare – food and shelter. At an even more fundamental, Schmittian/Hobbesian level, it's about security.

And neither of our two main party leaders has spelt out why anyone under 30 should trust them to act in their best interest – to acknowledge their present and future – regarding these basic needs.


Let's start with putting food on the table.

Young people are finding it harder and harder to work out what career to study for, and why.

Those who saw Labor's pledge to pump another half a billion dollars into the car industry would have been scratching their heads.

That industry has been kept alive as part of an absurd patriotic fantasy that we must have Holden utes to be a real nation, and a grossly outdated militaristic paranoia that if we can't build cars we can't build war machines when the Pacific apocalypse hits.

It made little sense in the 1960s when the Brits and the French pumped out cars, and it makes no sense now that South Korea and China are on the scene. We will never compete again and every young person realises that.

In a small country that can compete in only a few key areas, the government often has to pick winners. The government's pitch is that it will spend half a billion easing the death of an industry that doesn't work, and rip $2.3 billion out of university funding.

I challenge you to find anyone under 30 who can see the sense in that.

Thousands of journalism and communications students are about to graduate into a non-existent jobs market. The government doesn't support that sector, yet a thriving fourth estate is infinitely more important than a car yard full of Caprices.

Kids who study finance are rolling the dice. Will the year they graduate be one in which there's a hiring push or, as in many years past, there are sweeping redundancies in an industry where regulations seem to change every year?

There is an implicit taxpayer guarantee over our big banks that they will be bailed out when they fail, but they're allowed to keep massive profits when they succeed. This gives incentives to risk taking and arrogance.

Overseas experts think it isn't sustainable – so why should students have any faith?

The mining industry hires and dumps employees at the drop of a hat.

The professional cartels – law and medicine – seem to be the only sanctuaries left, and now they're so overworked that competition for jobs has led to extreme rates of suicide and depression. Almost one in three solicitors and one in five barristers – and 40 per cent of law students suffer medically significant mental distress.

But say you do manage to find a stable, sane job that puts food on the table, the next essential is shelter.

Now, when someone in their 20s, goes to buy their first house, their accountant will tell them to do two things – first, move into the house so they can get a first home buyers grant; second, move out of the house so they can rent it at a loss and claim a tax rebate on the negative gearing while they wait for property prices to go up.

The other option is to buy a house so cheap they can afford to amortise the loan themselves.

In 1000 years' time, historians will look at this period and try to explain it in terms of ritual and custom. But from Gen Y's vantage point it looks like property investors are being favoured over property owners, over families and particularly first home owners looking to get a foothold on the ladder.

Anyone who has bid on a modest apartment in Sydney lately, only to be outfoxed by a granny in a fur coat with a buyer's agent, will know the feeling. Why are we encouraging asset-rich boomers to make lazy investments in properties that price families out of the market?

Are we trying to create a society of renters? And if so, why? When did anyone ever vote for this?

Who is going to have the guts to burst this bubble so that the cost of living becomes reasonable?

Apart from some non-committal suggestions that negative gearing might be tackled in Joe Hockey's tax review, no one has even mentioned it in this election.

But let's ignore these questions. Let's assume that you have found food and shelter in your 20s. What about security?

Well, you don't need to be Hugh White to portend that the long-term security of our region is under threat.

We have been trashing our reputation in the region for some time. The "stop the boats" rhetoric, the treatment of foreign students, the 457 visa debate – we look like a bunch of tinny-smashing yahoos who spend weekends shaving dingoes and carving Southern Cross tattoos into the foreheads of kidnapped Chinese sightseers.

We're behaving like a lazy major regional power, when we're a pimple on the buttock of Asia.

Other nations are figuring out how to brand themselves and make their culture something Asian countries think fondly of – the kind of soft diplomacy that is invaluable in the long term.

The French have penetrated the luxury goods market with brands such as Hermès and Châteaux Lafite, the Brits have succeeded in putting a Manchester United or Chelsea shirt on every second Chinese schoolchild and are also developing a massive business park in London dedicated to Chinese companies.

But what has Australia to offer? Ugg boots?

The approach to regional relations is deeply immature and streaked with racism. Australians in Hong Kong and Singapore expect to be worshipped like pale gods but when highly skilled workers come to Australia, the default position seems to be that they should assimilate quickly, and that until they do it's reasonable to view them as part of a remittance conspiracy.

The consequence – most young people recognise – will be that it takes decades of hard work by Gen Y to reverse the ugly national stereotype.

And last year's Asian century white paper? It seemed to come and go like a pie wrapper on the wind.

Likewise, the only leadership debate before the deadline for voter enrolments felt light, trivial . . . terrifyingly breezy.

No serious answers were given about how federal policy would shape young people's lives. Instead, the political narrative wandered off into the swing-seat wilderness, far away from policy discussions that paint a picture of how young people are going to lead happy, stable, secure, meaningful lives.

While an older generation dithers and bickers over tweaks to franking credits and super benefits and other boomer welfare inputs, the vision, focus, ideas and purpose have evaporated.

If Gen Y decided not to enrol, who can blame them, given that they've already been disenfranchised in many respects.




  • Now that's something you don't read every day: the media pointing out that young people's infamous apathy is because our society has become rigged in favour of baby boomers, who lived large and have saddled the nation with debt, which will invariably be bourne by Gen Ys paying much higher taxes in the future. Home prices totally beyond the reach of hard-working 20-somethings, youth unemployment over 20%, university funding being slashed, and all we ever read this year was how Wayne Swan was hitting folks earning $100,000 in investment income from superannuation pay more than 15% tax. Who could blame young people for turning off; Australia isn't their country anymore.

    Gen Y
    Date and time
    August 27, 2013, 1:29AM
    • life is pretty tough as a Gen Y? you should try living as a Gen X who has been shafted by baby boomers for 2 decades..... obsessed with self interest and self gratification, the boomers pretty much saw their children as a huge burden to their funds which they were planning to spend on themselves.....

      the catch phrases were "do whatever it takes" , "self interest" and "redistribute the wealth...... to boomers"

      When baby boomers achieve power, it pretty much ends up like the peater beattie, anna bligh situation where obnoxious knobs use their position to suppress their mistakes/self gratification and refuse to relinquish the power unless threatened with huge embarrassment in the media....

      when leaving their positional power, they still hang around like a bad smell and refuse to put any energy into growing a new generation of leaders... unless its family

      swinging voter
      Date and time
      August 27, 2013, 1:40PM
    • At least you had HECS/HELP. As a baby boomer I had to pay full fees with no help from the government.But lacking Gen Y's self-obsession, I then fought for a change of government in 1972 so that future students didn't have it so tough. Stop whining and think about helping others.

      Date and time
      August 27, 2013, 8:11PM
    • I'd agree on the Gen X being shafted, but in the in X has pretty much got on with the job. We are now at the point where we get to start to lead as the baby boomers retire - and we have learnt a lot of hard lessons about planning and stability off the back of their mistakes.

      I look forward to this election. It is the first time Y is going to have a say en-masse. You have two major parties that are still targetted at the boomers - and completely neglecting gen Y (which are a slightly larger voter base). X (at 50% the size of Y) will, once again, play a very minor part in the result. And, as usual, we will just deal with it and make the changes we need to do so.

      Where will Y vote. Will they buy into Abott's old world attitude, Rudd's go get 'em at all costs attitude or go somewhere different entirely.

      Remeber Y, it is not a labor or liberal choice, If you give your first preference to an indepenant, they may get funding for the next selection. That is the way change starts.

      Date and time
      August 27, 2013, 8:26PM
    • Agree completely, Gen Y.
      You could address house prices by giving your vote to the Family First party, their policies regarding house prices are on their website. Give your Senate vote to the Stable Population Party.
      The two major parties claim that they need high immigration to broaden the tax base to pay for our aging population. But they are doing nothing to tighten the belt of the Boomers. Super income of the over 60's isn't taxed. They could blow the lot by the time they are 65 and go on the pension. You can claim the pension while your place of residence can be worth millions, and have huge wads of cash yet still be eligible for the pension. Time to tighten means testing and introduce reverse mortgages. Meanwhile, the youth are being targeted- new home prices consist of 40% taxes and fees. Makes the FHO grant look a joke doesn't it? The housing market is pumped to keep the Boomers happy. Wealth is being transferred in every facet of life- unfairly- to the older generations. Negative gearing and a low capital gains tax are other rorts which eat up tax revenue, transfer wealth to older generations and make life unfair for the younger Australians. It is time for a broad-based land tax, means testing for the pension, and cutting the 457 visa rort which is being abused.

      Generation X
      Date and time
      August 28, 2013, 10:09AM
  • I'm a Gen Y voter, but i still feel the same as the article.

    Even my boomer parents don't understand why i haven't bought a house yet (i'm 29). Especially my dad, who owns at least 3 houses at the moment i think. Can't spot me anything to help for a deposit on my own place though -> that would ruin his set up he's got going.

    Oh so bitter! I better go add some more sugar to my tea ;)

    Date and time
    August 27, 2013, 8:47AM
    • Your 29 and still don't have enough for a deposit? If you work hard, study hard and don't waste your money on cars, holidays, booze etc anyone can own a house.

      As for voting, gen Y are so used to having everything given to them.... maybe they should talk to people who had to fight for the right to vote... they might value it a bit more then.

      I'm 31.

      Date and time
      August 27, 2013, 12:38PM
    • I bought a house at 26 (18 months after finishing uni) and my parents didn't spot me anything for a deposit either, just like their parents didn't spot them any cash. When the time comes I won't chip in any cash for my kids either. If they're not emotionally ready to scrape together a house deposit (just 12-18 months worth of annual salary) they're not ready for the responsibility of home ownership.

      Date and time
      August 27, 2013, 1:03PM
    • John11, arent' you technically Gen Y? I know I am at 29.. Fight for the right to vote two years before me hey mate? hahaha.

      The whole 'everything handed to them' crap is really frustrating though. Before the recent rates drop houses were the worst they've ever been to buy, why defend policies which only serve to make this worse?

      PS John and Mick, you come across smug. Firstly neither of you own a home, you own a small portion of a home with a bucketload of debt attached to it. Your future is now dependent on the state of the national economy and your state in life - married, divorced, father, disabled, etc. - none of which you can really control. Secondly, not everyone earns above average or dual income, not everyone is supported with rent-free housing by their parents (i moved out at 17 and never went back!), not everyone finds jobs in the career they've chosen, etc. you should consider yourself *lucky* if you do...

      Fyi, I bought a home at 20 so I'm not just copping-out. I just don't look down on people with less fortune than me.

      I've also sold my home and am sitting at the sidelines waiting to see which country I live in now :)

      Date and time
      August 27, 2013, 2:41PM
    • Hey it could be worse. You could be a kiwi living in Oz with no right to vote. Uh uh before I get the customary backlash I have thought about going back but seriously I'm still better off here.

      Sold out
      Date and time
      August 27, 2013, 3:09PM

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