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Is Australia going down the gurgler? Weighing up the Intergenerational Report

By Peter West - posted Tuesday, 17 March 2015


This month we saw the release of the Intergenerational Report by Treasurer Joe Hockey.

That report, Hockey told us, explained the need for federal budget reform; without it, Australia was on track for decades of deficits.

Hockey said the purpose of the report was "to begin a conversation with the Australian people" about the nation's future. He would be hosting some of those meetings, naturally.

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In brief, the report paints a dark picture about Australians getting older, needing more health services, and in increasing debt.

The issue of debt is a tangled one.

According to your own lights, you can blame:

a. The Howard-Costello government which gave many benefits to middle-class people, especially the older and wealthier ones. Middle-class welfare is an accepted part of life in Australia now.

b. The dreadful waste of the Rudd-Gillard years. I saw for myself some of the worst: too many school halls built in New South Wales, for one million dollars each, most far too badly designed to be of much use. But only in State schools- the private schools took charge and used the money efficiently. There are many more examples of money spent by Labor for little public gain.

c. Attempts to cut back on poorer people's benefits by the Abbott Government, with little attempt to reduce the profits of international companies which work hard not to pay tax. And of course the mining boom has come and almost gone, and the mining companies have paid virtually no tax on their profits, while we are left to repair the damage done.

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It's all very well talking about debt. But there is so much waste by governments. Do we really need to keep giving millions to Indonesia? Do we need to keep fighting wars in the Middle East? Here in New South Wales, we've just given away precious Harbour land for a new casino. More criminal types will be welcomed and we get another blight on our Harbour. But no public gain - no new theatres or large public spaces. Why? Our State government makes huge profits because every time a house is sold, stamp duty must be paid. And every weekend we hear of record prices for house sales. Where does all the money go?

Well, what about the other issues raised? What can we do to make life better in years to come?

First, some arguments have been made about getting older people to work longer. I meet many people who, like me, retired in their mid-sixties. Then we find productive ways to spend our time. We write articles. We invest time in our grandkids, giving them guidance and enjoyable fun. We listen to younger people needing support. Many work as volunteers. Far more could be done to make people over 60 part of the working community. Men and women want to be useful. They want to count for something. Here's an asset every government should be trying to use to keep the economy going.

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About the Author

Dr Peter West is a well-known social commentator and an expert on men's and boys' issues. He is the author of Fathers, Sons and Lovers: Men Talk about Their Lives from the 1930s to Today (Finch,1996). He works part-time in the Faculty of Education, Australian Catholic University, Sydney.

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