Finance Work How ‘Team Australia’ is hurting our young people
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How ‘Team Australia’ is hurting our young people

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Since the days of the Roman empire, older commentators have lamented the alleged shortcomings of younger generations.

The Abbott government is following that rhetorical tradition with its slogan that young people have to “learn or earn”.

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But this fifty-something writer – who has one kid at university and another in high school – believes most young people are just fine and that older people are letting the team down. Team Australia is letting them down, if you like.

Indeed, I reckon that current policy settings play to the narcissism and greed of a  well-heeled cohort of older Australians who don’t need any more breaks from other tax payers. Let them keep their nest eggs, but the rest of us don’t have to supply them feathers.

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Dreaming of … somewhere to live. Photo: Shutterstock

To be clear, many old-age pensioners get a frugal, threadbare retirement after a lifetime of effort and paying taxes. And hardworking, middle-aged people are being urged to work longer when many bosses are already putting their CV aside.

But why do the top 20 per cent of income earners get half of all superannuation tax concessions?

Who benefits most from negative gearing on investment properties, which is helping to push home ownership beyond the reach of many young people?

On the learning side, young people who hope to study at university face steep increases in fees from a bunch of legislators who mostly got their degree(s) for free. Those looking for vocational training have to look for openings in a much-reduced TAFE system.

Meanwhile, anyone under 30 faces the threat of having to wait for six months before they can get the dole. The government might back down on the length of the waiting period, along with the requirement to apply for at least 40 jobs a month. But what jobs are young people supposed to apply for, particularly in rural and regional areas?

A new report, Barely Working, from the Brotherhood of St Laurence says the “untold story” nowadays is that more than 310,000 Australians aged 15 to 24 are underemployed, doing some work but wanting more.

The Brotherhood’s analysis of ABS data found more than 580,000 young Australians were either underemployed or unemployed.

Its executive director, Tony Nicholson, argued the “devastating” data showed just how much the job market has changed for youth attempting the transition from school to work in the Australian economy.

“Young people really do aspire to the same mainstream life goals as their parents and grandparents – they want a home, a job, relationships and a decent income,” he said.

“Alarmingly, these goals are becoming unattainable for an increasing number of youth. There are fewer entry-level jobs and the work they can get is increasingly casual or temporary. These insecure jobs are more vulnerable to being axed and less likely to offer training and career advancement.”

So, next time you hear an older person adopt a Roman Senatorial air and give free advice to young people, ask who paid for their university degree.

We should think of the future and that is the young. And we should look out for older people who do not already have a bulging Self Managed Super Scheme.

Mark Skulley is a freelance journalist who is based in Melbourne. He was a reporter on The Australian Financial Review for almost 18 years, which included a decade covering national industrial relations and the world of work. He has since written for The New Daily, the Guardian Australia and other outlets.

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