The Politics    Tuesday, May 2, 2023

Generation Extremely Pissed Off

By Rachel Withers

Jim Chalmers wears a neutral expression

Treasurer Jim Chalmers speaks during a press conference in Sydney, April 26, 2023. Image © Bianca De Marchi / AAP Images

Labor’s solution to its JobSeeker bind involves leaving young people behind yet again

If the Albanese government thought this was going to put the fire out, it was sorely mistaken. People are fuming at reports that Labor plans to increase JobSeeker only for those aged 55 and over in apparent recognition of the fact that older women are the most likely to be long-term unemployed. Speaking on RN Breakfast, Treasurer Jim Chalmers did not confirm or deny the plans, but defended the idea of extra help for people over 55, adding that it was already the case that those over 60 get a bit more. Host Patricia Karvelas pointed out that her text line was full of “red-hot rage” about young people being left behind, noting there were 684,000 people on JobSeeeker who were under 55. “Young people feel forgotten in the intergenerational struggle,” she said. “They are angry. Are you taking a risk, Treasurer, by targeting the older cohort, rather than a more generalised approach?” Indeed, Labor appears to be taking a big risk here, joining the Coalition in willingly forgoing the votes of young people, a cohort that has been repeatedly screwed over, economically and environmentally, and one that, as Crikey’s Cam Wilson tweeted, looks just about ready to crack.

As many people have noted, poverty doesn’t discriminate on the basis of age – and yet the government is choosing to do exactly that. Food and rent don’t suddenly get more expensive when people hit 55. Our internationally appalling JobSeeker rate acts as a barrier to employment for everyone on it, leaving them unable to afford the essentials of life. (That fact seems to be sinking in with the general public: half the respondents to the latest Essential poll supported an increase, while only 28 per cent opposed one.) The Australian Unemployed Workers Union has labelled the plan “bafflingly cruel, discriminatory and stupid”, suggesting Labor’s “divide and conquer” approach looks like union busting. And we’re already seeing solidarity from affected groups, with Older Women’s Network NSW tweeting that they would “NOT cheer” if payments were increased only for the older cohort. This policy, in fact, acknowledges that the payment is impossible to live on, and yet only increases it for some. “If it’s too low for some, it’s too low for all,” tweeted Guardian Australia’s Amy Remeikis, while Greens spokesperson Janet Rice noted that older people aren’t the only ones who are vulnerable, with Labor leaving behind “people trying to escape DV, young people with mental illness and those who can’t afford food as well as their medicine”. “#RaisetheRate,” tweeted the Australian Council of Social Service. “#ForAll.”

(Here we must acknowledge that Opposition Leader Peter Dutton’s reaction to all this this has been to call for a return of the “work for the dole” program – despite the program still existing, as per the Department of Employment website. In response, writer Tim Dunlop tweeted, “Bring back know[ing] what you’re fucking talking about.”)

But it’s not just this policy that is driving young people to despair. It’s this in conjunction with a series of policies that have left younger Australians in a worse position than those who came before them. Economist Alison Pennington has penned an entire Crikey Read on the subject, entitled “Gen F’d?”, in which she explores “how greed and short-term thinking have pulled the rug out from future generations”. Writer Jeff Sparrow yesterday published a comprehensive and well-timed column on the “generational crimes” being committed, including on student debt and the national debt, climate and housing. The Stage Three tax cuts, he notes, are also disproportionately skewed towards older people, with those under 25 receiving only 2.8 per cent of the budget-destroying benefits. Ah, but don’t worry, tweeted former editor of The Monthly Nick Feik, at least we get nuclear-powered submarines.

As Karvelas noted, the anger is palpable. Wilson’s tweet, wondering at what point young Australians crack from “an obscene housing market, a tax system geared towards the old and the rich, higher levels of education debt, lethargic climate action, and, increasingly, less support for the vulnerable”, has received more than 2600 likes, with many pointing out that they have already have. “I cracked a long time ago, hence the jump from retail worker to MP,” tweeted new Greens MP Stephen Bates. “If this apparent JobSeeker decision is true a lot more of us will crack too.” “Surely some young people restart one of these parties,” added 6 News journalist Leo Puglisi, tweeting out a screenshot of defunct Australian youth parties. As others noted, we are already “cracking it in record numbers”, but we cannot afford therapy in our broken mental health system. The future, as Guardian Australia’s Fiona Katauskas points out in today’s cartoon, looks incredibly bleak for young people.

What will this decision mean for Labor’s electoral chances? Left-leaning pollster Kos Samaras’s GIF reaction to the news said it all. “Not a very Labor thing to do,” he tweeted, noting that not helping young people in times of need skews them towards greater risk of lifelong poverty. Chalmers was this afternoon keen to reiterate that the government is “very conscious” of the financial pressures on young people, when asked again about the JobSeeker plans. But that doesn’t bear out in this decision. Young voters have already turned away from the Coalition in staggering numbers. And it beggars belief that Labor would be willing to take this growing demographic for granted, continuing a long-running conservative pattern of ignoring their needs, when the Greens are nipping at their heels. The newly reinvigorated rage may be hard to contain.

Rachel Withers

Rachel Withers is the contributing editor of The Politics.


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