Generation Xers get the scraps

by Chris Griffith
Written 1 February 1996


my face


When PM Paul Keating last week launched Labor's youth policy for the federal election, I felt a whole generation of young-Australians had been reduced to yet another disadvantaged sectional group that Labor had to target.

While the policy and aims were laudable, I can't help feeling that our baby boomer generation of politicians were only offering today's kids the scraps of prosperity and optimism that young people enjoyed 25 years ago.

It just made me realise just how lucky we all were in the so-called good old days.

In 1971, when I was 18, young people had it all, apart from the ever-present Vietnam war. Personally I had a wonderful deal in my late teens -- free tertiary education in 1971 thanks to a scholarship and from 1972 courtesy of the Whitlam government.

Although my education was free, in 1973, I decided to become a teacher and signed up with the Victorian Education Department. Not only did the department pay my wages through university from then on -- it paid me double wages because I had not been on its payroll the previous two years of my degree.

Further, the department counted these years towards long service leave. I ended up taking six months long service leave at half pay at the ripe old age of 31 -- that's how good the deal was.

All this for just agreeing to teach for three years in a department desperately short of teachers. Nowadays, any young person would jump for joy to have three years guaranteed employment. No enticement to work would be needed!

Those too were the days when we all believed we'd be employed for life, and when the great Australian dream of home ownership was a reality, and when life was financially secure -- for the majority, anyway.

Because of the Vietnam war protest movement, many of my generation experienced success in the political process early in life. As a generation, we didn't wait to be invited to be involved in politics. Young people were involved as politics was an activity capable of changing society.

In contrast, today's youth are largely alienated from the political process -- through no fault of their own. With many young people facing an uncertain future, the sophisticated political machines that drive today's politics seems to offer them little more than nightly TV soap opera of abuse between the parties and their leaders.

It is therefore little wonder that many young people opt for the Simpsons and tune out of politics altogether. Surveys suggest they have little time for TV current affairs.

This, coupled with the incidence of youth suicide, a depressing music culture, and uncertainty in life generally suggests we baby boomers owe the so-called Generation-Xers much more than the razzmatazz of a policy launch and empty platitudes.

Who would blame them, in the 2030s, as we baby boomers lie in our pink-painted old people's homes still listening to Deep Purple tapes through our headphones, if some generation Xers wouldn't be tempted to pull the plug rather than pay the massive aged care bill we are about to bequeath them.

That's not to say the Keating government's youth statement is unwelcome -- far from it.

But the task of providing a youth lifestyle as opulent as it was 25 years ago is a generational debt. It's not simply just another issue in the March 2nd election campaign.