Only nineteen


What’s better for young Australians: sex or hard work? That’s pretty much the choice on offer at this election from the major parties. Mark Latham aspires to offer me a ‘ladder of opportunity’, which is, of course, another way of saying ‘what do you want from me, help yourself damnit!’ John Howard, on the other hand is going to give me $3000 if I manage to impregnate one of my uni classmates. Ah, the agony of choice, but perhaps there’s more to it.

Howard has said this election is about the next ten years. This is a perfectly reasonable assertion from a 65 year-old man, he may only have ten years left in him, though judging by the pace he sets on those walks it’s probably more like twenty. Either way, it shouldn’t surprise many that Howard’s main concern is how he’s going to run out the clock. Limiting your scope to the next ten years doesn’t exactly scream ‘visionary’. We’re obviously better off electing someone looking beyond that.

The political reverberations of any regime can be felt for decades. Howard’s will be no exception: the GST, the US-Australia Free Trade Agreement, and the invasion of Iraq in particular will have lingering effects, with immeasurable repercussions. The future may only mean the next ten years for Howard, but for many of us it means much more.

I am 19 years old. To me, the future means (hopefully) the next fifty years. I’m concerned that I will wake up in an Australia where if I want to own a house I’ll have to move to Brisbane or Perth or the country. I’m concerned that I will wake up in an Australia so privatised that I won’t be able to find anywhere where the first priority is me, the user, rather than the shareholders. But I’d like to wake up in an Australia where previous political leaders have obviously considered, and cared about, how it will be after they are gone.

So is election 2004 a choice between the old and the new, the future and the past? At 20 years Howard’s junior, Latham is one of the youngest leaders this nation has had. At 43 he is the same age as John Kennedy, the American ‘young political leader’ titleholder. Comparisons to the 1960 US presidential election would please Latham. He’s tried playing the charismatic Kennedy to Howard’s dour Nixon throughout the campaign: the dominance in the televised debate, the pragmatic liberalism in contrast to the staunch conservatism. That US election was a squeaker, Kennedy clinching one of the closest in American electoral history.

The comparison breaks down, however, because Latham lacks the full set of characteristics that made Kennedy worthwhile: good looks, wit, charm, glamour as well as a patrician familial political entourage. More importantly and despite the marketing, he’s not the force for youth that Kennedy was, and that is what Australian politics so desperately needs. Latham has had no end of opportunities to define his campaign as modern and youthful, none better than last week’s Labor launch in Brisbane, but has largely wasted them championing his economic credentials and vowing to ‘ease the squeeze’ on, well, everything. He’s missed the chance to present himself as the new broom. Instead he just looks like the same broom with trendier glasses.

The youth problem is not confined to Labor. All parties targeting the young vote – even the all-idealism, no-realism Greens – seem arrested by the notion that the young will never grow up, just focusing on university places, HECS, schools and TAFE funding. Other crucial issues like employment opportunities, the privatisation (and hence availability and quality) of public services, and rising real estate prices, barely rate a mention. Instead, it seems our nation’s leader wants us to procreate for a living.

So who will stand up for Generations Y, Z and whatever will come after that? Nobody, apparently. But if we have to choose between sex and hard work, let’s hope Latham gets elected and brings that ladder with him. God knows we’ll need it.

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.