On few occasions have I read a more dangerous and arrogant proposal than that written in The Age by Peiro Moraro last Wednesday. Moraro, a lecturer in justice studies at Charles Sturt University, contended that “we should grant more votes to younger citizens, and fewer to older ones.”
The rationale behind such an idea being that younger people have much more at stake and they have to live with the decisions of governments for longer. Therefore, their vote should be a priority. While there is an obvious logic behind Moraro’s proposal, it risks relegating citizens over 60 to second class citizens whose opinion matters less due to nothing more than their age.
When it is stripped down to its essence, it is yet another example of ageism, and an extraordinary display of youthful arrogance. In exactly the time when we need to be debating how best to support the elderly population to be continued active participants in society, Moraro’s proposal seeks to undermine them.
The over-55 demographic is already sidelined in the jobs market by the shifting and unpredictable nature of the modern workforce. A person who loses their job in their late 40s usually finds it more difficult to find further employment.
National Age Discrimination Commissioner, Susan Ryan, found earlier this year that while Australians aged over 55 account for a quarter of our population, they only account for 16 percent of the workforce. Yet their number is growing. “The number of over 65s will double by 2055 when life expectancy will be well over 90,” she said.
The social, cultural and economic changes of the past decade have caused the most disruption to people over 50. Younger generations have been able to adapt and shift faster, yet for workers forced to retrain or even face redundancy due to changing technology, change has been difficult and confronting.
How then, as a society, do we respond? It would be entirely unfair to essentially slap them in the face and entrench the idea that their vote is worth less. It is incorrect to assume that older generations do not feel the impact of decisions any more than young Australians do. Moraro claims that younger generations are concerned with “job insecurity”, yet he mistakenly thinks that this does not apply to the most vulnerable generation forced to compete for jobs with fresh and eager minded Millennials. Superannuation was one of the key policy areas of contention this election, and in the wake of the Global Financial Crisis, it’s not younger generations feeling anxiety over their retirement funds.
Status arguments aside, the real-world policy consequences would also be dangerous. Governments of both persuasions have been accused of neglecting the elderly in their budgets. In an environment where younger voters’ say is worth more, it is not difficult to predict where politicians will direct their attention. The most vulnerable group in the community will be taken for granted and have a second-rate avenue to air their grievances.
Some might argue that this is exactly the point. We want politicians to focus on issues that impact younger generations. This rests on the assumption that younger people are already sidelined from the political process, to which I would argue that they are not. It also overlooks the fact that one group has paid taxes and contributed to society their entire lives, only to be told that their opinions don’t hold the same value as that of an 18 year old.
A significant percentage of Generation Y and Millennials are not sidelined from the political process. Rather, they are apathetic, choosing not to engage, preferring to draw an extra box to elect Jon Snow rather than cast a legitimate vote. Many don’t value the political process until they hold real world responsibilities such as a mortgage, a full time career, and children. In fact, many young people enjoy a hedonistic lifestyle of part time work, study, and travel while living at home with their parents, the very people Moraro seeks to partly disenfranchise.
Is it really wise to prioritise those yet to experience the real world over a generation with decades of life experience? A generation that has experienced economic shocks, social change and personal hardships? As a society, we should value elderly wisdom rather than disregard it. We should listen to it, rather than mock it. To use an unattributed quote, “listen to your elder’s advice, not because they are always right, but because they have more experiences being wrong.”
I also suspect that proposals such as Moraro’s is motivated not by a sense of social justice, but by a desire to relegate conservative opinions that they do not like. This again smacks of youthful arrogance, and one can’t help but be moved by Winston Churchill’s famous maxim: “if you are not a liberal at twenty you have no heart, if you’re not a conservative at forty, you have no brain.” Life experience teaches hard lessons, and as a society, we need to look past our youthful idealism and remember that.