March 2016


The boomer supremacy

By Richard Cooke
The boomer supremacy

© SolStock

The dominance of baby boomers is becoming total

Mike Baird, the premier of New South Wales, can’t have been prepared for this. Two months ago he was probably the most popular politician in Australia, presenting a wet Liberal surfer persona that gelled with the state’s better nature. There were travel concessions for asylum seekers. There was an earthy social media presence. Talking to the people online, Mike sounded almost like a human being, for a politician. After decades of corruption in a place once described as “the real estate equivalent of a narco-state”, a do-gooder was a welcome change.

But the Facebook sermon the premier gave on 9 February didn’t get that kind of response at all. It praised the state’s “lockout” laws, which Baird’s predecessor, Barry O’Farrell, had introduced in early 2014 in the wake of high-profile “one-punch” deaths. As a result, drinkers in Sydney’s CBD can’t change venues after 1.30 am, and can’t drink at all after 3 am. The laws were part-driven by an enthusiastic campaign in the major Sydney newspapers. But this was different. The Baird post attracted more than 15,000 comments, most of them angry and scathing. The Cool Vicar had transformed into #casinomike overnight. Those who had stuck him with the sobriquet were young people, traditionally tarred as the most politically apathetic constituency of all. They had finally revolted over the fate of their city.

The cultural effect of the lockout has been clear for a while, but a February article by CEO Matt Barrie seemed to speak directly for those tired of having their party pooped. A detailed account of closed venues and empty streets, it received close to a million views. One statistic highlighted is so singular that it hardly needs elaboration: pedestrian traffic in Kings Cross is down by up to 84% compared with 2012 levels. “Every week, another venue or restaurant closes. The soul of the city has been destroyed,” Barrie wrote.

Politicians and commentators still seem confused by the scale of the anger over this. Isn’t it just about nightclubs? Shouldn’t this kind of people power be applied to child poverty, or some other kind of incontrovertibly “real” problem instead? But lifelessness is not just a real problem for an international city. For many of the young and those approaching middle age, it constitutes a final straw. The physical lockout is the final manifestation of a cultural lockout they have suffered for a long time. They have been locked out of the housing market, locked out of affordable education, locked out of the welfare system and secure employment. They have seen their political power and their real wealth shrivel. And now the one area where their expectations had not been curtailed – recreation – is being destroyed as well.

The lockout laws are not the closure of a few pubs because of drunken violence. They are final confirmation of who the country is run by, and who it is run for. Those details are unambiguous elsewhere. Take the Grattan Institute’s 2014 report into wealth across generations, which isn’t “across” generations at all. Generation Y may be the first generation in memory to be less wealthy than that of their parents. Almost all the benefits of the mining boom in additional government spending went to older voters. As Greg Jericho reported in the Guardian, from 2003–04 to 2011–12, households where the head was aged 55 to 64 saw their wealth rise $174,000 (19%). The households of 24- to 34-year-olds lost $10,400 in wealth – a 4% drop. In major metropolitan areas, the shut-out of the young from the housing market is almost complete.

This relative disadvantage is treated not as the outcome of fate or policy, but as a matter of morality, a kind of just deserts. Young people angered by these laws are trivial, selfish, deluded and threatening. Just as they can’t get regular work because they’re precious, lazy and disloyal. Just as they can’t be allowed to drink because they’re violent, noisy and irresponsible. If they complain it’s only more evidence that they’re spoilt.

It’s this undercurrent, especially when expressed in the old media, that made the lockout laws possible. ‘Barry O’Farrell shakes off “play-it-safe” Premier tag by coming out with guns blazin’ ’ was the headline in Sydney’s Daily Telegraph in January 2014. The reluctant premier had finally done the paper’s bidding, announcing the lockout and mandatory minimum sentences for “one-punch” deaths and a range of other violent offences where alcohol was involved. It’s almost forgotten now, but the same article contained this seemingly hyperbolic line: “He could not say by how much the prison population would swell because of the mandatory minimums. The answer, if the law is applied effectively, is by thousands.”

The legislation that accompanied the first days of the lockout was composed so quickly that even those drafting it didn’t understand its full implications. Offences involving alcohol are commonplace, so an increase in the prison population looked certain. But it wasn’t until the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research modelled the likely effect on the state’s prison population that politicians realised what they had done. The projections showed that the NSW prison population would double in three years. The results seemed impossible, but it was too late. The premier had been double-teamed by both major Sydney newspapers, in one of the most hysterical campaigns in recent memory. Bravely, his government had first tried to tamp down the issue with cold facts: statistics showed drunken violence was actually decreasing, by almost 40% according to some estimates, and the culture of small bars was starting to sap violent drinking away from the city. But this intervention was like opening an umbrella in a hurricane.

So as the tabloids heaped him with their highest praise – machismo – O’Farrell and his ministers worked out the parameters of their own unwitting creation: a new kind of penal colony. The bill to impose mandatory sentences on a range of offences eventually languished – a testament to the folly of making laws in a moral panic – but the lockout laws, equally ill-considered, remain, and now include restrictions on the kinds of alcohol that can be served after midnight. The result feels like a final victory in the battle between Australia’s version of the cavaliers and the roundheads, the larrikins and the wowsers. Perhaps the most effective element of Matt Barrie’s article is a simple series of photos of closed venues, image after image of dark windows with that white A4 page in the middle like a death notice.

But to take the barely palpable pulse of the city one only needs a night walk. Mine started in a Darlinghurst bar crowded with some international reps fresh from a wine show. They wore no signs of a liquid lunch; they were just workers who had finished their job late and wanted a drink. One of them asked for a single malt scotch. “I’m sorry, I can’t serve that to you neat,” said a barman. It was after midnight. “It has to come with a mixer, otherwise it’s classified as a shot, and that’s illegal.” Not in the mood for a Talisker 18 Year Old and Coke, the man declined, and the group trickled out with him. “It does hurt our business,” said the barman when asked. “And if you look around, you’ll see we’re the only ones open late here.” Was that really true?

It was. I’d overheard some Spaniards calling Sydney ‘El Cementerio’ – ‘The Cemetery’ – and there was something sepulchral about the silent spaces. That look of desolation distinctive to the top of Oxford Street (the civic pockmark of empty storefronts and For Lease signs) was spreading all over the city. Taylor Square could have been hosting a memorial service, and in a way it was. Already the iconic Flinders Hotel, the Exchange Hotel – home to a number of venues – and Taxi Club had closed down, and the closest nightclub was to be replaced with a government-funded “family-friendly” cycle hub.

The whole stretch from Darlinghurst to Surry Hills seemed to be empty, the greasy spoons shut, a couple of bars of last resort unpatronised apart from their gaming rooms. These are exempt from the lockout – they can remain open as long as patrons only gamble and don’t drink. I walked all the way to the casino, which is exempt from everything – early closing and plastic glasses and no entries and all the other shackles of the legislation – even though it’s one of the most violent venues in the state. If opponents want to have the lockout revoked, the surest method is not to campaign against the laws but to insist they cover the casino. But even The Star’s bars were almost deserted. The city couldn’t have been emptier if it were under curfew.

It took me a while to find what seemed to be the lone group of people in Sydney having fun. In a city of almost five million people, there were exactly seven of them in an otherwise empty part of the casino: a small group of well-behaved students sitting in a circle, eating tiny, awful pizzas, and slow-sipping blue cocktails. Was there anywhere else to be? I asked. “It’s either this or go home.” Despite the fact that they conspicuously weren’t having fun, and were only here because of a funnel of cronyism, this pathetic scene started to feel like an act of defiance.

It also felt strangely familiar. At first it was the configuration, the tone, even the food: the nightlife quotient in Sydney, seven bored young people in an ugly room, was exactly the same as a children’s party. But it also reminded me of something else – something I hadn’t thought about for many years: the book Gangland.

Behind the hype and trivialisation that has accompanied the much-loathed moniker ‘Generation X’, young people are suffering. They have the highest suicide rates in the country. They are most likely to be long-term unemployed. The numbers of homeless young people have risen rapidly. They have been among the main losers in cuts to government services. In Australia’s new “flexible” labour market, young people have little prospect of the job security that their parents took for granted.

At the same time, youth and their preoccupations are being discredited, even demonised, in the media. A spate of media stories has focused on youth gangs and youth crime. Young people are caught on the wrong side of an increasing gap between “official” sanctioned culture and renegade culture. They seem to be drowning in a sea of sixties revivals, while their pleasures – be they dance parties or so-called “grunge” fiction – are denigrated, ghettoised or ignored.

Change “Generation X” to “Generation Y”, and “grunge fiction” to “alt fiction”, and this passage could have been written today. But it was written 20 years ago. Many readers and critics were a bit agnostic about Gangland when it was first released in 1997. It was received by some as a broadside against the baby boomers, or a whinge against the cliquishness of Australia’s literati. Almost a generation later, it seems so prescient it’s almost eerie. It’s like finding an instruction manual for cultural and political production in this country. The book’s thesis is subtle, but plain: a generationalist paradigm and a suspicion of youth leads to a kind of cultural sclerosis in Australia. Public debate is conducted largely between a few loud and entrenched baby boomers. Gangland named names. The extent to which those names are the same names now is remarkable.

“I was writing about the exclusion of the young from the cultural sphere in Australia,” says the author, Mark Davis, today. He’s an associate professor at the University of Melbourne’s School of Culture and Communications. “But what we are seeing now is the extension of that exclusion to the social sphere at large.” The threads are all there in his book: the precariousness of work, the attacks on higher education funding, the establishment of a “worthy recipient” model of welfare, the disdain and fear with which the media treat young people. Broadsheet papers still write about youth not as part of their audience but as an anthropological curiosity. But since Gangland was written, these threads have combined into something much more absolute. The dominant cultural voice in Australia is an overly anxious and slightly out-of-touch parent, magnified and distorted through tabloids and talkback radio.

The political power that can be leveraged by property owners and the well employed is significant, and right now it is being used to compound their every advantage. “When I see the way the Abbott government – like its Labor predecessor – happily presides over a system stacked against the younger generation, it makes me wonder why they’re not rioting in the streets,” the Sydney Morning Herald economics editor Ross Gittins wrote in June last year.

The baby boomers have been the drivers of economic policy for decades. You can chart a kind of path through state spending, a path that begins with their birth between 1946 and 1964 and is ending now. The remaking of developed economies after the Second World War meant this generation’s rise coincided with the high-water mark of the welfare state. Beliefs about what government should provide and support – health care, education, unemployment benefits, and tax benefits – have reflected their priorities in a way that is more than coincidental: a governmental red carpet was rolled out in front of them. It is now being quietly rolled up in their wake.

In 1999, Australia’s then Human Rights Commissioner, Chris Sidoti, made a controversial summary of this situation. “I don’t think there’s been a generation like this that has been so unwilling to pay a fair share of taxation,” he told the Daily Telegraph. “We are now the people who are in positions of influence with the media, government, business and most walks of life, and [if] there are people in Australia who aren’t doing well, I think we have to look at ourselves as the people who are responsible for that.”

There is a mini-genre of Australian journalism that seeks to prove that property in our metropolises is secretly affordable for the young. News Corp Australia’s websites enjoy it in particular, but all commercial media are partial to it. A young person is put on a pedestal for owning multiple properties. He or she becomes an exemplar – not only is it possible for the young to buy properties in Australia, it’s possible for them to buy six, if they really want to.

A prime exhibit, again from Sydney’s Daily Telegraph:

Meet one of Australia’s youngest property tycoons who’s proving at just 24 that it is possible for young professionals to get on the housing ladder.

Stephanie Brennan, from Belrose, has six properties worth more than $2.3 million – including three on Sydney’s northern beaches, and two in Queensland.

These articles are designed as a corrective to whiny young people who are too profligate to save for a mortgage. They are also almost invariably tainted evidence. For example, “while Miss Brennan admits her family is wealthy, she said she never received any financial help”. Quite an effort, for someone on a modest salary. The article itself goes on to show that “though she had around $100,000 in savings she persuaded her mother to go guarantor for $60,000 with the Belrose family home – meaning she didn’t pay any deposit at all. Four months later she put $80,000 of her savings on her second place in Collaroy. Next, she bought a plot of land on a nature reserve in Glencoe, Scotland, with $50,000 left to her by her grandparents … A place in Manly, funded by releasing the equity of her Collaroy place, followed, and a few weeks ago she bought her latest two properties in Brisbane.”

A young woman from a wealthy family is effectively given $110,000, knowing the tab for this leveraged nightmare can be picked up if it all collapses, but still somehow did it all herself. A key element of these stories is sacrifice. The young must forgo travel, live away from the city, work overtime or two jobs – above all, they must not be young.

Another common sleight-of-hand is to compare average salaries with mortgage repayments, but exclude the initial deposit from the sums. That way a house suddenly looks “affordable”, because $100,000 has been shed from this outlay cost. There’s not a lot of room for risk abeyance or an enjoyable life in this modelling, but there are more important things at stake. The economist Stephen Koukoulas has constantly emphasised the folly of young people not buying houses. His advice? “If you see a house you like and can afford it, just buy it and don’t hang around hoping for a price fall that probably will not happen.” Simple as that. Just as often, young people are criticised for not buying sooner: if they’d bought property three years ago, for half a million dollars, they’d have made $250,000 by now. No matter what, they can’t seem to get it right.

Less common in the press, but perhaps more common in reality, are stories of what happens when buying a house at 21 goes wrong. In an article that admitted “most members of Generation Y are ‘fiscally conservative’ and have more money than debt”, the Sydney Morning Herald reported on a 27-year-old using the pseudonym Alexandra. She owed more than $20,000 on credit cards, had less than $2000 in the bank, and was sinking under debts. “She blames her woes on a single decision she made six years ago. ‘I got in [to the Brisbane property market] by myself at the age of 21. Biggest regret and mistake of my life,’ she said. ‘I’ve spent my 20s slaving away for a mortgage on a place that hasn’t gone up in value and missed out on so many experiences, like living overseas.’” She “places herself firmly among the have-nots of her generation, aged 18–29”. Her much-cherished sacrifice was for nothing.

Baby boomers were brought up in much more parsimonious times. Their parents marked the postwar rationing years with a high rate of saving. Consumer goods, such as electronics, were very expensive, while property was relatively cheap. Now that situation is inverted. A young person looking to maximise their happiness has little prospect of owning a home without familial assistance, so they turn to consumerism to improve their quality of life. This causal relationship is then interpreted in reverse: young people are too improvident to own property. If only they didn’t buy a coffee every morning.

In 1975, the average Sydney homebuyer took three years to save their deposit, and the average home cost four times the annual income. In 2015, the average Sydney homebuyer took nine years to save their deposit, and the average home cost 12 times the annual income. But read the comments section under any article on property prices, and it will be full of unsolicited advice from people who bought a home 40 years ago. It wasn’t easy for them either, but they made sacrifices – they didn’t eat in restaurants, they didn’t go on holidays, they didn’t go out. Occasionally someone will advocate living “away from the city”, and it will turn out they bought their first home next to the beach.

This group of thrifty investors rarely mention their free education, cheap rent while saving, or union-protected and secure jobs. They weren’t asking the bank for a loan while struggling on a one-year contract or paying off a $50,000 HECS debt. It doesn’t matter what the numbers say, though. In this rendition, Generation Y and the tail end of Generation X haven’t been excluded from the property market because they’ve been failed by society. They’ve missed out because of a moral failure of their own making.

That theme is now a motivating principle of our economic policy. In June last year, Joe Hockey made one of the ill-advised comments that defined his time as treasurer. Asked about a record lack of housing affordability in Sydney, he responded that Australians who wanted to buy their first home needed to “get a good job that pays good money”. A predictable stampede of riled nurses, teachers and firefighters followed. From that time on, Hockey seemed to have “beleaguered” permanently affixed to his job title.

Meanwhile, Liberal MP and former tennis player John Alexander noted that the state of the housing market risked making Australia a nation of “imprisoned tenant serfs”.

Lost in the kerfuffle was the moral import of what Hockey was saying. A “good job” didn’t just mean a well-paying job. It meant becoming a member of what is known as the Real World, or Real Life. The Real World is a staple term of commentators, politicians, talkback callers and online commenters, usually conservative in nature, but occasionally on the left too. For them, Hockey’s syllogism wasn’t an insulting statement of the obvious but an important corrective to delusion.

Here’s a representative response to a story that reported Hockey’s remark:

Stop spending money on crap (X-box etc) there’s nothing wrong with a second hand car, you don’t need a 2 storey mansion, you don’t need more than one tv, forget about realty tv and start living in the real world and save like we all had to do and yes, look for a better paying job.

If young people lack the moral tenacity and wherewithal to even improve their own condition, in other words, why should that be anyone else’s problem?

There are always “hundreds of jobs in the paper” – this is a phrase that can be carbon-dated to a time when those jobs (and those papers) might have meant something. And it’s true that there are “hundreds of jobs” now online. On the youth website Pedestrian, for example, Wedding Expos Australia Pty Ltd is seeking staff for its events. Successful applicants will be required to “[do] collateral distribution, meet and greet of visitors, liaise with exhibitors, receive and process registrations, merchandising display, bump in/out process [and] assist in crowd management”. They will wear a uniform, and need to be available between 7 am and 5 pm.

Except they won’t be paid. For their labour they’ll receive “ongoing support and of course lunch!” This is a volunteer position, one of a raft of non-jobs in pseudo-employment. In highly coveted areas like the media, fashion or the arts, what was always a tournament economy has become something more like a pyramid scheme, full of loss leaders for a profit that never quite arrives. But even in less glamorous sectors – charity, physiotherapy, fitness instructing – businesses with real money inside them will tout for desperate graduates to come and work for free. There seems to be no shortage of applicants either. In some fields there are so many wannabes that businesses simply cycle through internships, effectively running whole departments with no salaries. An Interns Australia report in 2015 found 86.4% of interns surveyed were not paid or were paid below minimum wage, and 78.92% reported that their internship did not lead to paid work with the same company. This unpaid precariat accept it as part of the price (or lack of price) for this brave new world of workplace flexibility and personal entrepreneurship.

Young people are entering the most uncertain world of work imaginable. The average gap between full-time study and full-time work is now five years, according to a Foundation for Young Australians study compiled with ABS data. Whole industries can disappear in the course of a few years. In comparison, many Real World proponents received not just a free education but also more direct paths into the workforce. Coming of age before business had even discovered management consultants, their work was stable and more often protected, or sheltered behind tariff walls; and after work, at age 65 or earlier, they received an employer or state-supplied pension package on a scale barely believable now.

Perhaps it is this very contrast, between the status of boomers and the younger generations, that makes bosses believe employees should be grateful simply for having a job, paid or not. But it also means that there must be something wrong with Gen Y. The level of full-time youth labour participation in Australia is lower today than it was a decade ago, by a difference of 10 percentage points. They must deserve it.

White-collar work now is a constant struggle to reinvent, re-educate (there’s those fees again) and re-skill, to become a self-actualising node that can plug into all manner of corporate machinery. There are benefits to this system as well, for some, but control still belongs to the boss – and the days of a boss going down with the ship in an ailing business are long gone.

Junior staff are variously described as “lazy, expect too much, spend too much time on social media and have a poor work ethic”. These typical labels come from a Fairfax BusinessDay article, ‘Gen X perceptions a workplace challenge for Gen Y’. Rather than exploring why this generation had become the most competitive in the history of the modern office, or how to challenge such a perception, or manage expectations in a volatile environment, the article addressed each cliché with an equally patronising pull-your-socks-up truism.

“The Gen Y employee has to understand that they are no longer at home or school and be prepared to learn other ways of doing things … Lift your head up and get into conversation at work … you might be expected to prove yourself before you can start changing the environment …” You should somehow do all of these things while also recognising that “the workplace is changing fast so be prepared to work together and don’t dogmatically stick to past perceptions or practices or foolishly run into the future unprepared”.

Somehow young workers need to be both agile and traditional, team players and self-motivating, in search of a good job and willing to work a job that isn’t paid at all. To be grateful, and, most importantly, to wait their turn.

That turn may never come. Last year, the Australian Financial Review asked Deloitte Access Economics, the Australia Institute, Macroeconomics, the Grattan Institute, the Centre for Independent Studies and the Institute of Public Affairs to nominate their key ideas for budgetary fixes. Some of these think tanks have fundamentally conflicting visions of what constitutes society, and agree on almost nothing. Still, they achieved an unlikely vision of harmony.

“From self-described progressive groups to free-market bodies including the Centre for Independent Studies, all agree that super reform should be one of the government’s top priorities,” the paper reported. “Five of the six nominated curbs to super concessions, currently valued by Treasury at more than $30 billion a year and forecast by many experts to hit $50 billion.”

The experts’ predictions were stark. “There is a stunning generational unfairness in our [budget] settings and all those disengaged younger Australians need to wake up to the fact they’re being massively screwed by … what the baby boomers are leaving for them,” said Chris Richardson of Deloitte Access Economics. “Right now, we’re eating their future.”

Everyone from Bernie Fraser to Tony Shepherd to David Murray to Alan Jones to GetUp! has railed against the system. Even the super industry itself has suggested ending the tax concessions, a bit like a drug dealer telling a favoured customer to calm things down a bit. The Fairfax BusinessDay headline ‘Rich old men get the best deal out of super tax concessions: ISA tells tax review’ gives some of the flavour. The exclusion of the family home from the pension assets test has been just as widely criticised, and finally the Turnbull government looks to be turning its attention to these costly excisions.

“Australians know that a system of super tax concessions where 40% of concessions accrue to the top 10% of income earners is neither fair or sustainable,” said the Labor Party’s Chris Bowen in February this year. In 2013 the same Chris Bowen promised that if the Rudd Labor government were re-elected there would be no changes to superannuation for five years, a reiteration of Rudd’s own promise before the 2007 election that superannuation would change “not one jot, not one tittle”. It was an idea that had no supporters beyond its beneficiaries; even many of them realised the system was unsustainable.

But the sheer numbers, wealth and cultural influence of the boomers have kept policies such as these in place long after their calamitous effects should have been recognised. Negative gearing – allowing losses on rental properties to be tax deductible against an investor’s other income – has been the engine through which Australian property has become some of the most expensive in the world. It has been retained for decades, under the fig leaf that an attempt to wind it back in the 1980s led to increased rents. That was in Sydney and Perth only, and was likely the result of other factors. But this flimsy excuse has made it immovable. In reality, the policy is just popular with the investor class, allowing property owners to avoid tax and push their equity higher at the same time. It has never meant lower rents or an increase in housing stock. Multiple properties have become the norm. “We’re seeing an older generation [that has] benefited from a combination of quite generous tax and welfare treatment and has also been in the right place at the right time as interest rates came down,” the economist John Daley told Lateline in June last year. “Therefore asset prices rose and we have a quite wealthy older generation, indeed an older generation that’s much more wealthy today than people of that age, say, 20 years ago. And that’s the generation that’s got money now to invest in … investor housing.”

As Ben Oquist of the Australia Institute explained in February, “the under 30s [are] taking approximately 1% of the benefit of [capital gains discount and negative gearing] tax breaks worth $7.7 billion a year”.

Labor has finally proposed getting rid of negative gearing (though grandfathering the changes), and the Coalition may follow suit on super concessions. Malcolm Turnbull will have an easy piece of reform to enact, just in time for the next generation to come and pay their dues instead.

That’s why Sydney’s lockout laws, and those planned for Brisbane, are copping such blowback. It’s not because the police are suddenly molesting wine bars in Paddington, or because the moralising class has started running a citywide temperance program. It’s because they are synergistic attacks on millennials, Gen Y and Gen X. They’re almost elegant in their efficiency: their motivator is youth’s use of public space, already diminished as the public square makes the declension to the shopping mall. They increase the price of already valuable properties further, and accelerate gentrification.

They also act as part of a wider attack on wages and conditions in hospitality, perhaps the single most critical source of well-paid employment for the young. They then deny those same workers the chance of a civic social life after they’ve finished their shifts, or even the chance to get something to eat. Even kebab shops are subject to police intervention now.

And this agenda isn’t even concealed. As the CEO of the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education noted, “Oft-forgotten in all of this are the people who live in Kings Cross and all those areas … They spoke about how the area has been transformed. It’s had a positive impact on the residential side of the suburb and adjacent suburbs. People found it an attractive investment proposition.” This seems to be straying some distance from the foundation’s remit.

Kings Cross has always been a political place, its nightlife traditionally the non-conformist kind. Now that the suburb is sanitised, surveilled and often empty, no one could pretend it’s a site of resistance. Charged with patrolling an empty suburb, the police have turned their attention to making sure it is no longer a red-light district either. Arrests for prostitution have increased by 488%. At one stage the highway command sign in the area announced that police were now targeting “improper horn use”.

Walk through Sydney on a night out, and that characterisation of a cemetery is only right at first glance. The security guards, and the enforced sense of family-friendly fun ending at 7.30 pm, and the notion that everything is taken care of by the rules: these things aren’t terminal. Sydney isn’t dead – it’s moribund. Instead, the silence is that of a long sunset in a very expensive and well-furnished retirement village. A thin-lipped quiet, that still speaks an unambiguous message: get off my lawn.

Richard Cooke

Richard Cooke is The Monthlys contributing editor. 


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