Australia’s war on young people grows ever more relentless

Do Australians hate young people? This week, pollsters Essential Research published the results of polling off the back of soon-to-be-Tory-roadkill Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s idea for compulsory military service for British 18-year-olds. Would Australians support such a proposal or an alternative of compulsory volunteer work?

According to Essential, just over half of respondents supported sticking all 18-year-olds in the army. Around 46% favoured forcing them to work for free. Unsurprisingly, younger voters were underwhelmed by the idea: 39% of under 35s supported military service versus half of 35-54 year olds and over 60% of seniors.

It seems, for Australians, young people are a threat or a problem to be punished with military service or forced labour — an object to be manipulated by the polity, not genuine citizens with the same rights as everyone else (and funny how it’s always the parties of “freedom” and their supporters who want to take young people’s freedoms away).

Perhaps Australians have taken their lead from their policymakers — or is it the other way around? Because young Australians continue to be the victims of an array of government policies that immiserate them, for the benefit of older Australians.

The facts on housing barely need repeating. Home ownership among under 30s has fallen significantly in recent decades. The national rental vacancy rate has been at record lows for two years and is consistently half or less of pre-pandemic levels. Young people’s ability to save for a home deposit has been undermined by wage stagnation: according to the Productivity Commission, labour income fell noticeably for 15-24 years olds between 2008-18. Contributing to that is the fact that, according to the Fair Work Ombudsman, young people, along with migrant workers, are the prime targets for wages thieves in business.

As workers, young people now face the highest inflation — nearly double that faced by pensioners and self-funded retirees, who have dramatically increased discretionary spending while younger cohorts have cut spending in real or even nominal terms. The level of student debt per person has increased significantly in the past decade and was over $26,000 at the end of the 2023 financial year — growth of around 28% in real terms since 2013. The time taken to repay HECS-HELP debt over the past decade has increased from 8.4 years to 9.6 years.

Given the decade-long debt we impose on them for an education and how hard we’ve made it for young people to enter the housing market or even rent their own place, our fertility rate has unsurprisingly been in decline since 2008.

Meanwhile both sides of politics are pursuing long-term policies that will make the world and the economy that young people will inherit worse, less predictable and more expensive. The federal government has embraced fossil fuels, opening the door for a big expansion in our gas exports and carbon emissions, with taxpayer assistance and minimal taxation on the earnings. Meanwhile Labor’s emissions reduction targets increasingly look implausible, even before its “gas-led” recovery takes hold, while it relies on the scam of carbon credits to make up shortfalls.

The Coalition proposes an even more radically climate denialist suite of policies, to keep unviable and unreliable coal-fired power running, presumably with taxpayer subsidies, while it builds an Australian nuclear power industry from scratch (NSW Labor is also committed to handing hundreds of millions of dollars to a fossil fuel company to prop up coal-fired power).

And while Labor at least has committed real money to funding more housing and housing infrastructure in what is likely to be a futile effort to significantly expand the level of residential construction, the Coalition’s housing plan consists of encouraging young people to raid their minimal super for a home deposit, effectively transferring young people’s wealth to older home owners via increased housing demand, while young people end up with far smaller superannuation balances decades hence.

Faced with such withering contempt from the political class, young people unsurprisingly have a very different view of politics. Not merely do nearly 30% of millennials and over 30% of Gen Z voters vote Green (far more than vote Coalition), according to the right-wing Centre for Independent Studies, there is no evidence that Gez Z voters are shifting to the right as they age in the same way that previous generations, and to a lesser extent Millennials, have done — if anything they are shifting leftward.

This is reflected in views on totemic issues. Nearly 60% of 18-24 voters supported a constitutional Voice to Parliament last year. And while there is less polling, 18-34 year olds are less likely to view Israel’s onslaught in Gaza favourably or be satisfied with the role Australia is playing in relation to the conflict (US polling shows Americans under 30 are far more likely to view Palestinians than Israelis positively, with nearly half viewing Israel’s response to the October 7 atrocities as unacceptable).

Illustrating the inability of the governing class to accept the views of younger Australians as legitimate — as if the hysterical reaction to university protests in support of Gazans wasn’t enough — last week Julia Gillard argued young people only felt the way they did about Israel because of social media. Gillard — a fervently pro-Israel leader who was rolled by her own caucus when she tried to impose her personal views on Australian foreign policy — claims “young people are ­developing views about this which are unbalanced and really not ­informed by the history”. Objecting to mass slaughter and ethnic cleansing, it seems, can only result from being misinformed by the great bogeyman of social media, something older Australians are apparently immune to.

It’s unsurprising that the youngest adults in Australia are not merely rejecting the political orthodoxy of the governing class and media but remaining stubbornly at odds with it. Dismissed, instrumentalised, treated as a resource to be exploited by older Australians, seen as second-class citizens to be controlled and punished, they’re on the other side of a generational divide older Australians have pushed ever wider.

Are young people right to feel disillusioned with the state of Australian politics? Let us know your thoughts by writing to letters@crikey.com.au. Please include your full name to be considered for publication. We reserve the right to edit for length and clarity.



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