Nothing can remedy the theft of the future from all fourteen children at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida for they were murdered by a deranged gunman, in perhaps one of the worst examples of what is almost euphemistically and blandly called a ‘school shooting’ in the United States1. This mass murder has engendered massive demonstrations for gun control in the US, in the hope of preventing such mass murders happening again. Of course, the National Rifle Association (NRA) has reacted strongly against any suggestions that stopping adolescents having semi-automatic weapons is sensible, thereby indicating that to the NRA, selling guns is more important than the lives of children.
The Australian Government under John Howard reacted to Australia’s worst modern mass murder, the Port Arthur massacre of 1996, by heavily restricting the availability of semi-automatic weapons and organising a large gun buy-back, to remove superfluous weapons from society. This has worked dramatically well with death from gunshot (both homicide and suicide) decreasing by 50% and mass murders of anything approaching the scale of the Port Arthur massacre not reoccurring. However, while the young are not being murdered in Australia at anything like the rate in the US, Australian young people are having their futures damaged.
This theft started long ago, but perhaps the most recent obvious effort was the profligate Howard government’s urinating up the wall of the benefits of the mining boom. This they did by cutting income tax mostly for the rich, discounting capital gains tax, stopping fuel excise indexation, cutting tax on superannuation, and of course topically, converting excess franking credits into cash refunds for shareholders who paid no tax. These budgetary depredations cost Australia about $56 billion dollars per annum4. Putting this in perspective, the federal budget deficit for 2016-2017 was $37.1 billion5. This structural deficit is something that we are currently lumbered with and it will simply get worse for future generations. A kick in the teeth for future generations.
Most of the current crop of politicians who have a university education obtained it when it was free or relatively cheap. In 1972 Tertiary education fees amounted to about $600 per annum. The Whitlam Government abolished Tertiary education fees in 1974, and that remained so, until the Hawke Labor Government introduced the Higher Education Contribution Scheme (HECS). Under this scheme students were initially charged about $1,800 per annum, and the government paid the balance. Now this scheme has been replaced by the Higher Education Loan Programme (HELP) under which, a student may end their tertiary education with a debt of as much as $112,000, depending on the course undertaken. This debt was to be repaid when a debtor’s income reached a reasonable level. In the 2017 federal budget, funding of universities was cut and the level of income at which the HELP debt repayments kick in was decreased from $55,000 to $42,0006. It’s just another kick in the teeth for the young.
It was initially suspected that decreasing Sunday penalty rates in some industries, as the government agreed to do in 20177, would inordinately affect young people8. However, it was stated by the government that decreasing the Sunday penalty rates would in fact increase employment9. This turned out to be rubbish; indeed, the reverse was true, with some people working fewer penalty rate hours than previously. The people most affected by this were women under 35 and students10. Yet another kick in the teeth for the young.
The government has always attempted to minimise increases to the minimum wage7, despite there being little indication that moderate increases to the minimum wage have much of an effect on overall unemployment11. Recently, the National Retail Association (with the unfortunate acronym NRA) has come out in support of a 0% increase in the minimum wage12. The government has supported this application. However, this is the NRA and the government shooting themselves in the foot. There is some evidence that the decline in consumer spending, at NRA outlets, has been caused by the stagnation in wages, which a 0% increase in the minimum wage will only exacerbate13. Of course, it almost goes without saying that the young and women are more likely to be employed on the minimum wage14. Another kick in the teeth for the young.
Perhaps the worst threat to future generations is the inability, or unwillingness, of politicians here and overseas, to effectively deal with climate change. This abrogation of responsibility will make all the other economic crimes against the young pale into insignificance by comparison.
While Australian young not suffer the horrendous physical and psychological trauma as often as their age group in the US, and do not have their lives stolen from them in mass murders like those at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, they are having their future prosperity stolen from them by the prophets of trickle-down economics. This is continuing, with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Treasurer Scott Morrison rumoured to be crafting a 2018 budget with handouts to baby-boomers in a bid to try to attract their votes. One of my abiding worries is that my generation will have had the best of all possible lives on this continent, and that it will be downhill from here. If I was one of the young, I’d be outraged by these old farts in suits who seem to have little or no concern for the prosperity of future generations, just making sure their donors are happy and wealthy. Maybe it is time for the young to start demonstrating in Australia too.