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Mar 3, 2014

Country for old men: little diversity in Abbott's picks

A federal government that is composed nearly entirely of old white men is relying heavily on old white men for advice. It's unbalanced and not in the national interest.


See if you can spot a pattern among the following appointments by the Abbott government.

In October, the government announced that a National Commission of Audit would be headed by 69-year-old Tony Shepherd. In December the government announced a financial services inquiry, to be headed by 65-year-old David Murray. In February the government announced 72-year-old Dick Warburton would lead a review of Renewable Energy Target. The Prime Minister’s Business Advisory Panel is headed by 76-year-old Maurice Newman. It has two female members out of 12 and an average age of 59 years old. In January, 66-year-old Peter Cosgrove was named the new Governor-General. Sixty-three-year-old Patrick McClure will head a welfare review. Seventy-year-old Dyson Heydon will head the royal commission unions; 67-year-old Ian Hanger will pursue Labor through the pink batts inquiry. Nick Minchin, 60, is off to New York as Consul-General; 62-year-old Alexander Downer is off to London as ambassador. Ziggy Switkowski, 65, was brought in to head NBN.

It’s not that there aren’t female appointees of the Abbott government: Amanda Vanstone is on the Commission of Audit, along with Peter Boxall (65) Peter Crone (47) Tony Cole (66) and retired WA public servant Robert Fisher. Carolyn Hewson is on the Murray Inquiry, along with Prof Kevin Davis (65), Craig Dunn (49) and Dr Brian McNamee (56). Shirley In’t Veld is on the RET review, along with Matt Zema (53) and Brian Fisher (63). Heather Henderson, who is 85, was appointed to the Old Parliament House Advisory Council, along with 72-year-old David Kemp and 80-year-old David Smith (in place of 63-year-old Barrie Cassidy, appointed by Labor).

It’s not that Labor didn’t have a similar pattern. Who is the most quoted name in education reform? Sixty-year-old David Gonski. And if you remove the once-ubiquitous Heather Ridout (and Christine Bennett, who headed the health and hospitals review), the profile of a number Labor reviews wasn’t that different to the Coalition’s.

But it’s one thing to ask older, and often retired, figures to conduct reviews — they have the experience and, at least ostensibly, the detachment to bring an objective but informed mind to public policy. It’s quite another for almost the entirety of a government to be made up of such people. The first Rudd ministry had four women; Julia Gillard’s did as well (plus up-and-comers like Tanya Plibersek and Kate Ellis in the outer ministry). Tony Abbott’s cabinet has Julie Bishop. And the average age of Abbott cabinet is a tick below 53. That compares to well below 51 for the cabinet of John Howard’s last term. And that last Howard cabinet had three women (Julie Bishop entered cabinet when Kay Patterson retired), with another five in the outer ministry.

Some of its appointees are highly competent. But this is a government with less diversity and greater age than John Howard’s last ministry in the cabinet as well as a predilection for old white male figures to review and investigate things.

“The Abbott government, to a degree remarkable even for the Coalition, is hopelessly unbalanced.”

And consider the institutions that support the Coalition. The Business Council now has a female CEO, but Gail Kelly is the only other female board member. The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry has only one female board member out of 12, although Kate Carnell is the incoming CEO. The Liberal think tank the Menzies Research Centre has one woman on its board of nine; no prizes for guessing the demographic of the remaining directors (check out the Centre’s event list for how often they hear the views of women). News Corp is controlled by a geriatric billionaire, with its Australian newspaper editors and commentators almost exclusively middle-aged and old men, an eternally raging prostatariat.  The Minerals Council of Australia has a board composed entirely of white males, mostly middle-aged or old. The views of these organisation are highly influential within the government.

Old white men (and I’m 46 and Anglo-Celtic, so I’ll soon be one myself) have their place. Males over 60 make up about 10% of the population. Their views and experience, which are of course as diverse as those of any other demographic, are a welcome addition to the policy mix. But these aren’t just any old white males. For example, there are no older former blue-collar workers who know what it’s like to struggle to adjust to economic reform. There are no old environmentalists, and hardly anyone from outside traditional business circles, or academia (provided they’re sufficiently conservative) or former senior public servants for conservative governments.

This means that some of the traits of old white men, and in particular old white men drawn primarily from the business sector, come to be predominant in public policy. Australian polling consistently shows climate denialists are disproportionately older, usually male, usually conservative. British and American polling data shows the same. So it goes with the government’s appointments: David Murray, Dick Warburton and Maurice Newman are all climate sceptics; Shepherd has warned Australian mustn’t lead the world in responding to climate change (as if there has ever been any danger of that); Brian Fisher was the famous statistician for the Howard government’s denialism.

And such men tend to confuse the national interest for their own interests, believing that anything that benefits business, like lower corporate tax rates and less regulation, is automatically a good thing for Australia, even if consumers have to pay more tax to make up for it, or communities and the environment are damaged because of lax regulation. They also clone themselves. As the dearth of women and non-white men on Australian boards attests, put some white men together and they’ll perpetuate their own kind, continually renewing their ranks exclusively from people like themselves.

This will doubtless be construed as an attack on older men. But the problem isn’t the views of older men, or even those of old businessmen. It’s what happens when you have nothing but such views driving public policy. Governments must always balance experience, competence and representation of the community they are governing. The Abbott government, to a degree remarkable even for the Coalition, is hopelessly unbalanced.



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54 thoughts on “Country for old men: little diversity in Abbott’s picks

  1. DiddyWrote

    It’s a Gerontocracy.
    Ancient Sparta was ruled by a council of elders called the Gerousia whose membership had to be made up of males over the age of sixty.
    Nice to see Abbott returning to traditional values.

  2. Dogs breakfast

    The baby boomers (and the pre baby boomers) aren’t going to let go of the levers of power without a bunfight.

    Apart from the obvious gender imbalance, there is probably no time in the history of humanity where the levers of power needed to get input from the yoof generation.

    Virtually everything we do today will be done differently in 5, then 10 years time, and it’s a problem that the people who are planning to meet the future are, ahem, unlikely to be familiar with the present.

    Yes, sorry, ageist comment. Inter-generational equity is going to have to be sorted out by those who are senior. Is suspect the younger generation are on a hiding.

    Oh, that’s right, climate change! Hi kids, here are a batch of problems for you to work on, we were too busy maintaining our grip on power to do anything!

  3. Jimmy

    This govt has a vision for the country that only the white over 60’s could really agree with, they want to review everything but only to get the outcome they want so they only people they can trust with the task are old and white males.

  4. klewso

    Maybe one of them is going to have a sex change?

  5. rhwombat

    I do so look forward to the day of PM Plibersek & Deputy PM Wong, if only to witness Rupert’s discomfort.

  6. Jimmy

    rhwombat – Rupert would have to have died and the News Ltd papers bought by someone less right wing for that to happen.

    Over the weekend I read Laurie Oakes, Miranda Devine and one other editorial in the Herald Sun – all of which criticised the ALP, there was no sign of any editorial even remotely approaching analysis of govt policy – and this after a week in which Fiona Nash got her self tangled up at senate estimates, Scott Morrison was trying to say he didn’t make a massive mistake and a poll came out showing the ALP up 54-46.

  7. wayne robinson

    It’s an absolute disgrace that the Abbott inner ministry is so old.

    And it can be mathematically proven that the cabinet is getting progressively older at the rate of 1 day per day, so the problem is getting worse.

    The solution is simple. Each day, sack one minister and replace him (it’s likely to be a male) with a new minister 19 days younger.

    Problem solved…

  8. Alex


    I am an old (or can I refer to the mid-fifties as older?), white male, in the business world, and I agree wholeheartedly with your sentiment. The government does indeed, need far more diversity in its appointments. I wouldn’t even mind if they included a tree-huggin, tote-puffin, non-straight, female hippy! All outlooks that encompass equality for all, are worthy of consideration (although, I’d draw the line at inclusion of Collingwood supporters. Let’s not get too carried away!).

    Cheers, Alex (an embittered and deeply disappointed Demons supporter).

  9. Bill Hilliger

    And for those whom follow American politics, the Republican party is also known as the party of angry old white men …is there a comparison here? Methinks in more ways than the chur nalists MSM could, would or should honestly report in respect to similarities of GOP policies and many of the coalition aspirational policies.

  10. Dez Paul

    I’m 53, white, male, well educated, middle class. This gummint represents nothing about me or what I believe. Guess I must exist in some parallel demographic to the one favoured by Abbott and his cronies.

    @Dogs Breakfast – well said. I have no kids, but what a shi tty legacy to leave the yoof of today.

  11. rhwombat

    Jimmy: True, but you know that The Ruperts are desperate when they resort to apologising on behalf of the ABC (see First Dog). Even their cupidity can’t survive that degree of cognitive dissonance for longer than they are paid to – and you know that the minute Rupert finally shuffles off, the whole ego-sustained propaganda blimp comes crashing to earth. Who would employ the attack jellyfish then?

  12. Jimmy

    Dez Paul – “This gummint represents nothing about me or what I believe.” How would you know – this govt doesn’t even know what it represents other than tearing down everything the ALP did.

  13. Jimmy

    RHWOmbat – Did you see “Mad as Hell” last week where Shaun Micalleff apologised for the ABC falsley reporting another story relating to asylum seekers, he said they should of checked their facts more thoroughly before relaying the story and will not trust Scott Morrison again.

  14. rhwombat

    Jimmy: Yep. Reality outstrips satire. Even the old rabid Rupertista’s that used to haunt insufficiently doctrinaire posts in Crikey have gone quiet in the face of Toady’s tantrums. Remember Suzanne Blake? It’s a bit like when Tom Lehrer retired from satire in the face of Kissinger’s Peace Prize.

  15. Venise Alstergren

    Given the fact that the leading lights (?) of the Liberal party are refugees from the John Howard era, they would have to be aged.

    The conservative parties will always produce reactionary and mentally constipated ideas and values. Certainly history has produced successful old men, but I don’t think Oz will ever produce the quality of Augustus Caesar or Claudius Caesar.

    Rabbott Caesar? I don’t think so!

  16. Bill Henderson

    Country for old men? What is this political preoccupation with Old Men? How about that elderly gent assaulted by two of Australia’s finest on that bus the other day?

    Apparently those two Femme Fatales would share the same view as yourself. See what you’ve done.

    A bit of respect for the grey brigade please, we are not all Loopy Liberals.

  17. Pedantic, Balwyn

    BK quite rightly notes the conformity of opinion amongst the prostatariat (what a wonderful word BK); what could also be mentioned is their appalling lack any experience of today’s world.
    With high incomes, substantial assets, job security (particularly Govt. sinecures) and almost certainly no issues with health costs, education, rearing children, taming teenagers or any regular contact with anyone under 50, relatives excepted, their thinking and responses to the issues facing the majority of citizens are severely restricted by their own condition.
    So Prime Minister Abbott can bask in the security of knowing that his opinion is echoed by the old farts surrounding him, whilst his Government is seen to be detached from reality by the rest of us.

  18. Daemon

    WE voted for them.

    We got them.

    We DESERVE them.

    The next prick who suggests something to keep the elderly going after their use by date should be nailed to a door.

    I’m 58.

    Murdoch is not just a geriatric billionaire. According to M Turnbull he is a “demented plutocrat” with which view I strongly agree.

  19. Daemon

    @Bill Hilliger, be careful old mate. Your use of the word “whom” so incorrectly, puts the lie to your age being appropriate to this nest of elderly vipers.

  20. Stephen

    Worse still, old white Christian men.

    They think what’s good for them is good for everybody.

  21. Laurie McHenry

    here here, here here Bill.

    Umm, err,..hmm, hang on a sec, I forgot what I was gonna say.


  22. granorlewis

    At least B Keane signed his own name to his tirade against so-called “old men.” Along with the rest of the ranters who have commented (except Venise who is never shy) you ought all be ashamed of yourselves. If this range of commentary indicates the level of common sense displayed by you “young” people, it is no wonder no-one – Tony or anyone-else – will give you a job.
    Such discriminatory stuff should never appear on any blog site, let alone Crikey which usually does apply high standards to its commentary.

  23. granorlewis

    I meant to write “nameless ranters” but I must be too old to write properly.

  24. DiddyWrote

    Abbott has always been comfortable as an acolyte of older, reactionary white men. Santamaria, Pell and Howard to name a few.
    He is 56 now and Prime Minister but the habit of a lifetime is difficult to kick so he still relies on the advice of his elders.
    It doesn’t say much for his leadership skills and would probably explain why his government seem so lacking in innovative policies.

  25. Merve Shaw

    @Bill Henderson

    At least you’ve still got hair, Bill.

  26. Jimmy

    Granor – It isn’t that he listens to conservative old men, it is that he only listens to conservative old men, if he filled all these posts with 18 year old girls or 30 year old hipsters the problem would be the same, a distorted world view because it is viewed through the one prism.

  27. Bill Henderson

    Mr Daemon

    You don’t write like a 58 year old, more like an insolent arty farty young punk crusin for a brusin. So you think your pretty tough do you? well put em up, put up those dooks and lets see what ya got. Come on gimme ya best shot.

    But not today, I just got me new set of dentures and tomorrows out too due bingo down at the club and Wednesday I got physio, but sometime soon I tell ya.

  28. MarilynJS

    It’s not so much that they are all over 60, I am 61, it’s that they are all rich, white and smug right wingers.

  29. klewso

    And he’ll stand in parliament like some carny barker, in front of that arrangement of Kewpie dolls, to give the impression there are more women?

  30. Verne Cruikshank

    Mizz Venise

    ” they would have to be aged.”

    Speaking of Femme Fatales. Such descrimination coming from an aging feminist femme fatale as your good self, Venise,
    and accompanied with all your Gulag pre-programing.

    The only thing left for you to display is your will to exterminate all those over 65 and then tell us it’s politically correct.

    Go back to Moscow Venise and fly the hammer and sickle and give all a break, will you.

  31. michael crook

    Its not that it is an attack on old men, I am 66, do not regard myself as old, and am still a very involved community activist. I am also in at the birth of the new Queensland Political Party, the Save The Reef Party, headed by Dr Andrew Jeremijenko. It is just that these particular men have an old ideology, and not one consistent with any cultural mores except for the “rule by corporation” that we currently suffer under. As such, and like the corporations they so happily espouse, they have no moral compass. They are at the vanguard of taking our culture not back to the 1950’s, but more disturbingly the 1850s.

  32. Matt Hardin

    @Verne WTF?

    All that was pointed out is that is they were all from the Howard era which ended six years ago and they where Middle aged then then logically they would have to be aged.

    Also as many people have stated, having a bunch of white business men over the age of 60 in all positions of advice and power is unlikely to get you the necessary range of views to deliver good policy. It is hardly discrimination to suggest that other people’s voices be heard. Where are the blue collar workers in that list? Women? Single parents? First generation immigrants? Aborigines? Scientists? Engineers? Teachers? People in their 30s and 40s? All of these people have to live with the decisions made, all of these people could contribute to the discussion. They are poorly represented, if at all. If diversity of opinion is raising the Hammer and Sickle then you have a very poor understanding of Soviet politics (look at some pictures of the politburo and then reflect on what a homogenous group of old white men can end up deciding to do.)

    Thread disclosure: I am a middle aged white man.

  33. Marty Jones

    Well done on the moderation. Some things never change.

  34. Electric Lardyland

    It’s not really that they’re old; it’s more the fact that they’re old and bitter. Unfortunately, this tends to lead to the mind set of not being receptive to new ideas and of having an increasing desire to blame somebody else for your problems.

  35. Bill Henderson

    ” having an increasing desire to blame somebody else for your problems”

    Well! what’s wrong with that!hahahaha

  36. DiddyWrote

    Hi Electric Lardyland,

    Good point about them being bitter. But why?

    These men are or have been at the top of their professions and are very comfortable indeed financially but they appear to be as miserable as sin and chippy to boot.

    Evidently all that money doesn’t bring any joie de vivre or else they all suffer from constipation.

  37. Bill Henderson

    Who’s fiddling with the dials here. Damn technology, we’ll all be rooned.

  38. Laurie McHenry

    Ahhh huhh!..I just remembered what I was gonna say.

    It’s a bit of a generalization to pigeon-hole all elderly folk as mean spirited and unable to form wholesome and reliable opinions on current issues.

    Are you still a communist? LoL!

  39. AR

    The reason this claque is dangerous is that they know in their hearts that they are wrong on ecology, economics, social justice,common decency & such minutiae but they are also exceedingly well off and ain’t nobody gonna have a chance to prise their self esteem, power & money from their cold, claw-like fingers.
    For self identifying “conservatives” they certainly must hate the descendants, if any.
    Dog-in-the-manger doesn’t cover it, this is shit in the well and wreck the machinery before being carried out feet first.

  40. Electric Lardyland

    Yes, Diddy, unfortunately I have to go out, so I haven’t got time to write the long answer, but the short answer is; they have probably fully bought the damaging right wing ideology, of each person being a competing individual economic unit, instead of what we’re largely evolved to be, a sociable and constructively interacting part of society.

  41. JKUU

    Sounds just like the GOP (Grumpy Old Patricians — whites only, of course).

  42. Tom Jones

    It is an even narrower demographic than that outlined – old, white, male, private school educated (many Jesuits). The narrowness is deliberate. The gibe that the adults are back in charge was deliberately aimed at women who should know their child like places.

  43. Henry

    right on Bernard, it’s a geriatric bay of pigs scenario. Oh of course coalition governments do not bow to minorities, well this shows that they do. Roll on the day when old WASPs vacate their hives.

  44. Henry

    oh, must point out a typo in this article’s heading – you appear to have left a letter out of ‘picks’

  45. Henry

    or ‘picks’ started with the wrong letter

  46. PossumPete

    I am of the Abbott ‘ilk’, however, theoretically and practically, I always believed that diversity was the hallmark of a strong and effective team. It is unfortunate that in business, and particularly in politics, leaders seek the ‘safety blanket’ of homogenisation to enable effective and/or ideological control.

  47. Coaltopia

    Gerontocracy or Necrotocracy?

  48. Wayne Bingham

    I beg to differ, it has nothing to do with age. check some stats at http://www.knowledgepool.com.au . This is not about age or gender, to perpetuate the OLD whitemen story is to miss the point. being old doesnt mean you stop thinking, “Oh I’m 60 I can’t apply critical analysis anymore.” This lot choose their friendlies who are not in jobs, statistically that means people over 60. this is the most partisan govt I have seen for a while, in Australia anyway. The suggestion there is an inherent intergenerational conflict is garbage. Sorry to say this but there is no shortage of young dullards, nor old ones. The real intergenerational conflict was created through vote buying with Howard. Its just this Govt has a preference for compliance over thinking. Nothing to do with age. The great legacy of John Howard is the young dullards are funding the old ones. Thank you so much.

  49. Kevin Herbert

    Bernard: had this storyline on the backburner for a rainy day?

    What on earth were you thinking?…this piece is ageism, pure & simple.

    Next you’ll be pointing out which of them has blue eyes & blond hair.

  50. Kevin Herbert

    Dez Paul: what do you class as being well educated?

  51. Dogs breakfast

    “If this range of commentary indicates the level of common sense displayed by you “young” people, it is no wonder no-one – Tony or anyone-else – will give you a job.”

    Hey, I’m 52. I may be old, but don’t dare suggest that common sense and I have anything in commom.

  52. Dogs breakfast

    That should have read ‘common’. Oops

  53. klewso

    Pssst, are you an “r” short in that header?

  54. Kevin Herbert

    klewso: given your above comment, can we be sure that you’re not a sub at the Daily Terror???

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