Welcome To The Age Of Intergenerational Entitlement


In a world of self-interest and over-consumption, intergenerational equity often receives short thrift these days.

Australia, like elsewhere, needs to contribute to assure future generations of a sustainable future. This is a core ideal which the West has successfully marketed to developing economies; sometimes it is badged as good (smaller) government, sometimes as the now popular intergenerational equity.

If the Coalition were the United Nations they might even refer to it as sustainable economic development.

The first day back in the lower house showed Abbott’s government in a robust and smug mode, more than a match for an opposition which appeared eager to believe their own good press.

They would be wise to heed more Machiavellian advice and to remember the unlikely defeats of 2001 and 2004.

Abbott’s Cabinet are playing the long game and this is what they mean each time they rebrand budgetary measures as intergenerational equity, whilst their fingers remain crossed behind their backs to avoid the emerging issue of pecuniary interests and mixed messages. 

The fact that Abbott ended most of his trite ripostes at the first post-budgetary question time with the assumption that Labor is mortgaging our kids’ future by not agreeing to repeal the carbon ‘tax’ was not unexpected.

That he is quick to reposition a mandate is also something both sides of the House have attempted before.

The ALP had a mandate to act on climate change (anthropogenic or not), but now apparently that has been repealed.

It will cost, we are all reminded, $550 annually per household, per taxpayer, though how these figures can be credible across states and also varying household consumption is never fully explained.

Each taxpayer – and this is the first of the current dog whistles – is forking out to repay Labor’s ‘debt and deficit’.

What is not usually linked to such a clever line is measures such as Kevin Andrews’ bid to save laggard marriages with a $200 cheque for counselling, which will also be payed for by taxpayers.

One would certainly be naive in the extreme to believe that most workers are willing to fund the marital problems of someone they have never met.

If they were, they would arguably do so through direct charity, not through investment in a larger bureaucracy.

This is even without mentioning the paid parental leave scheme, which dwarfs carbon pricing in its impact on the bottom line (we all speak in code now).

In the aggressive sloganeering of the Abbott government, this is true equity, because ‘taxpayers’ is code for responsible citizens contributing to society.

Biblically it resonates as ‘to those who have much, much more will be given’. However, one can be both an approver of the ideology behind the scheme but also a critic of the context under which it has been presented.

It is the cigar that is smoked secretly under Parliamentary awnings while people elsewhere actually do get burnt.

The scheme, in the broader rhetoric of austerity, is the Moby Dick that keeps giving. It is equity for, say, those who don’t lose unemployment ‘benefits’ for six months at a time.

For a leader who seeks to lead a war on cost of living (regarding specifically Labor’s carbon pricing policy) – and whatever that is to either side of politics has never truly been explained – such a scheme is not only inflationary but is also lacking proper ‘implementation’.

This latter word has become Immigration Minister Scott Morrison’s plaything of late, and it certainly resonates well with some.

It doesn’t matter the repercussions for those temporarily involved, but at least the implementation (unlike Labor’s debt and deficit) is correct.

Announced off message, on International Women’s Day a couple of years ago, the paid parental leave is the sort of brave policy the DLP would be proud of.

It also stands in marked contrast to our current cycle in which the age of entitlement is over; unless you know the right people, that is.

While intergenerational equity evokes thoughts of environmental sustainability, the current Coalition ideals settle solely on couching the budget as a security emergency – a ticking AAA-rated bomb – one that can be solved by creating potentially less consumption as taxpayers worry over their forward estimate futures.

Interestingly, few commentators have engaged in a discussion of retrospective intergenerational equity, in which well-paid members of all parties managed to have avoided paying university fees but then seek to lecture aspirational citizens over their educational debt and deficit.

As always, it comes down to KPIs for this administration. And so while it may currently be true that someone with a tertiary education can earn up to 75 per cent more than a high school dropout, as a lawyer or a CEO one would imagine (not a nurse or a teacher), the chances are they will be using a higher proportion of their massive pay cheque to reserve their accrued debt and interest. Unlike most serving parliamentary members.

Intergenerational equity is this month’s buzzword. I’d wager my educational debt that it won’t see out this Parliamentary winter sitting.

When exposed for its cynical use, it surely does not pass the much lauded pub test.

Labor would be advised to not be so smug and to own up to its unintended debt, one created by actual emergency budgetary measures.

We were all Keynesians for a year back then, remember. They were able to save more jobs than the Coalition has jettisoned in the first six months, and of that alone they ought to feel proud.

But lecturing from a quicksand pedestal does them no favours.

The electorate understands the nuance, and the current budgetary measures are not Rocky but perhaps Barfly – a story in which no one really wins.

Intergenerational equity really only helps those who already have much. And to them, more will be given.


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