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Apology from a baby boomer to generations X and Y

Frank O'Shea |  03 March 2016

There is an emerging pattern in the political landscape of Western countries.

Cartoon representing generationsIn Britain, the Labour party has elected Jeremy Corbyn as its leader. The undisguised amusement of the commentariat only barely covers their red-faced fury at such impudence.

Some days ago, Corbyn was criticised by the Prime Minister, a former Eton boy, for wearing shirts and trousers that were less than a perfect fit. There were a few squeals, but Cameron got away with it.

In America, the Democratic party has been caught sleeping by the sudden rise of Bernie Sanders. Just to remind you: Sanders is the son of Jewish emigrants from postwar Poland, he is in his 75th year and is a veteran of the civil rights campaigns of the mid-century.

You might remember those happy times — long-haired hippies on pot, marches on Washington, sit-ins, the whole shebang. Do you ever wonder what happened to those troublemakers? Most of them joined me to become the boomer generation. And now they — we — run things.

Part of the problem is that the generations that came after us, our children, can't work out the rules that we boomers have developed for running the country. Take taxation for example.

At present, there is an argument between the two sides of politics about negative gearing. According to one side, changing the rules would reduce the cost of housing — and this is their strongest argument against such a change. 

A member of Gen X or Gen Y — someone in their 20s or 30s, not long out of education and in a first or second job, saving in the hope of one day being able to afford a home of their own — might not read it the same way.

They read that the median price of houses in Sydney is over one million dollars and because they paid attention in their maths classes, they understand what this means: more than half the houses in Sydney cost in excess of one million dollars.

It actually doesn't matter which side of politics we are talking about, because if these young people have learned anything since leaving school it is that the two sides of Australian politics are interchangeable. They are two sides of the same coin.

More than 30 years ago, when this writer bought a house, the cost was a little over three times his gross wage. It wasn't Sydney, but imagine a teacher or a nurse or a policeman trying to buy a house there today, with a multiplying factor of close to ten times gross income.

Is it any wonder that most voters, especially young ones, are disillusioned with politicians? They are looking for a Messiah, and would be happy with an Englishman with ill-fitting trousers or a 75-year old American ex-hippie. Indeed, America has gone further and seems to be embracing a maverick Republican who is prepared to take on Wall Street.

Last week, the Irish people, unable to see any difference between the major political parties, elected a parliament in which almost one quarter are independents or members of micro-parties, people who can only ever occupy opposition benches.

How long, you wonder, before something similar happens in this country? How long before independents take the obstructive role in the Australian lower house that they so effectively fulfil in the Senate?

Just in case, however, there is a bill through parliament at the moment to ensure that the major parties will always have the running of the place. One side called heads and had to put up the bill which the other side, having called tails, had to oppose.

You are a 28-year old teacher, your wife works long hours in a casualty ward, no hope of a first home, and you are paying the salaries and expenses of these people.

On behalf of the baby boomers, I offer our insincere apologies and hope that the whole thing does not make you cynical.

Perhaps you could find an Australian Corbyn or Sanders to do something about it.


Catherine MarshallFrank O'Shea is a retired Canberra school teacher.

Main image: Shutterstock



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Submitted comments

Thanks a lot, Frank! I think neither Corbyn nor Sanders can do anything that would provide answers to the two questions you have raised regarding independents. The speed with which the idyllic sheen of the PM has been tarnished by his backbench makes me realise that no matter who we elect (except maybe Ricky Muir) we always elect a politician.

Uncle Pat 04 March 2016

Isn't it time we privileged boomers stood up and told the politicians that even if we do lose a little on our houses- too bad- we would rather see the next generation get a chance to get what we have. After all we have it pretty good on an economic level. Our kids are not going to be so lucky. Mind you no doubt "negative gearing" is not the only solution- or even the best but at least the conversation on this SacredCow has started. Just maybe we could also acknowledge that safe, secure and affordable housing is important for those who under the new casualised insecure employment conditions will never be able to buy their own. There is no excuse for a country as rich as ours not to provide for all.

pamela 04 March 2016

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