Generation Change

The ALP’s Gen-X Crew

The Herald was making the point today that the ALP have gone Gen-X with their choice of frontbench. When you think about it, Bill Shorten is 46 going on 47 so that puts him at the older range of Gen-X, and Tanya Plibersek at 44, it’s true that the ALP have indeed gone Gen-X. I have a late Boomer friend who tells me that all this demographic stuff is just a construct not worthy of analysis, except I’ve been writing here under the banner of ‘Gen-X View Of The Universe’ for a good 5 years now. It obviously means something.

What could it mean?

The Generation X politician in Australia would have arrived at Tertiary education after the AUS was disintegrated by the likes of Peter Costello and Tony Abbott in 1983, Interestingly enough, Julia Gillard was the last President of the AUS when it collapsed in 1983. If you anted a model to the fractious politics of the Julia Gillard Prime Mininster-ship, you would have found it in the demise of the Australian Union of Students, with the same cast of late Baby Boomers thrashing and trashing institutions to make their political mark. What’s scary is that they’re still around aplenty in the Liberal and National party ranks, and they probably still don’t think much of indulging in that sort of ratbag behaviour. This explains the histrionic opposition style Tony Abbott chose to work with – because it is the method he used in his youth to destroy the AUS , headed up by Julia Gillard. Worse still, it worked again, so that may be why he’s so convinced he has some kind of mandate.

The demise of the AUS and the years where there was no student lobby until the NUS got up in the late 1980s allowed HECS to be brought in. Unlike the Baby Boomers, most of the Gen-X politician would have had to pay HECS. When they say education and the opportunities it affords are important, they know what they are saying. All these things are intimately entwined.

If there is one thing that I do think is encouraging about the Gen X ALP politicos is that they are of the generation that had to put back together the NUS and have the experience of rebuilding institutions. If the ALP under Rudd-Gillard looked positively fractured, then I think the current group might be able to start from scratch and build a proper agenda that suits the time. As I wrote the other day, I’m feeling fairly optimistic about the Shorten-Plibersek team, much more so than I felt about the Rudd-Gillard team when they first rose to the level of Opposition leader and deputy back in 2006. They’re not perfect human beings and they will make their mistakes. I just don’t think they’re as fractious and crazy as the generation of politicians who were forged in the dying days of the AUS.

Right now, the Coalition are the party of the Baby Boomers much more than Gen-X or Gen-Y by dint of the ageing population and makeup of the Liberal and National Party demographic. The fissure hasn’t been more stark than any other time since Mark Latham as late Baby Boomer was taking on John Howard who was born before the Boomers. That fissure sort of leaves the current ALP firmly in the Gen-X camp with the hope of picking up a big portion of support from Gen-Y.  The question then is whether Gen-X+Gen-Y interest is a big enough voting constituency to overcome the Baby Boomers’ interests in their twilight years.

Demographically speaking, Gen-X is small and shorter than either the Boomers before or the Gen-Y that follows. That being the case the duo may never make it. And if they did, they may be seen off by a Gen-Y politician. Consider the American experience. Bill Clinton was the first Boomer President, who was followed by George W. Bush who was followed by Barack Obama, all of whom are Boomers. All three Presidents won two terms, so the Baby Boomer reign will last 24years. If a Gen-X candidate won 2 terms after Obama, the next election after that will likely see a pair of Gen-Y candidates. It’s entirely possible there will never be a Gen X President of the United States.

Similarly, I don’t see any Gen-Xers knocking on the door in the Coalition ranks. If Abbott is replaced for some reason, it’s possible the leadership reverts to Malcolm Turnbull or goes to Joe Hockey – both of whom are Boomers. The longer the Coalition stay in power, the less chance there will be of a government of Gen-Xers in Australia.

So when you look at it through the demographic filter, that’s what we have with Bill Shorten and Tanya Plibersek: The one and only shot at Gen-X forming Government in Australia.

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