Serious question: what, exactly, motivates this government’s passionate loathing of young people?
The government’s new $2.8 billion cuts to higher education funding, a mix of higher upfront fees for students, harsher loan repayment requirements and cuts to university funding, have been downplayed by some in the media. A “steady-as-you-go package” one commentator called it, contrasting it positively with the previous reform package sprung on the sector by Christopher Pyne, that would have saved $4.2 billion; another journalist tweeted that average students would only pay $8 a week more in repayments (just a couple of soy lattes, right?). There’ll be no $100,000 degrees; the most expensive is a medical degree at a mere $75,000. Remarkable how much better a draconian package of cuts and fee rises sounds when compared to the original ambit claim.
Ironically, the cuts will be delivered in a budget purportedly focused on infrastructure, as if our higher education system isn’t some of the best value infrastructure in the economy.
We noted yesterday that the lack of meaningful housing affordability initiatives in the budget will perpetuate the status quo in which young people face an invidious choice of how to live anywhere near centres of economic opportunity. Get a good job that pays good money to afford a house, Joe Hockey lectured young people, except he didn’t mention it’s becoming impossible to afford to live anywhere near a “good job” in Sydney and Melbourne. Notice the recent shift in rhetoric from the government and Scott Morrison in particular: once housing affordability was going to be the centrepiece of next week’s budget, now, apparently, he’s solved it already. “We are already seeing signs the heat in our housing markets may be coming off, especially in the apartment market,” Morrison said last week — as if the regulator-driven slowing of the unsustainably rapid growth in prices in Sydney and Melbourne is somehow a fix for affordability — and as if it’s OK to continue to subsidise investors to compete with young people and low income earners for housing supply.
But these are hardly the only areas where our young people are targeted by the government. Who will lose out if the government’s submission that a “cautious approach” be taken to a minimum wage rise is adopted by the Fair Work Commission? Young people, who disproportionately make up those on the minimum wage. Who will lose out if penalty rates are cut in the wake of the Fair Work Commission decision supported by the government? Step forward young Australians, again.
Whether our young people are learning, earning or just trying to find somewhere to live, they’re going to cop it — unless they become a property investor straight out of school, presumably.
Meantime, our refusal to take climate change seriously and play any sort of global leadership role — indeed, we continue to proffer our coal to developing countries like a drug dealer searching for new customers — guarantees the economy of the future will be poorer, more expensive and more fragile than it should be, especially in regional Australia. If we don’t get them now, we’ll get young people in the hotter, drier, poorer future we’re creating for them. There’s no escape.
Why are young Australians treated as second class citizens when it comes to policy? Why can governments like this one relentlessly target them? Because there are no political consequences for doing so. Target housing investors, property lobby groups move into action. Target tax breaks for the wealthy, the aged Liberal Party base begins counting the numbers. Target unions, Labor and the ACTU launch a campaign. Target pensioners, seniors lobby group start writing letters to MPs. Target universities, the Group of Eight fire up. But young people only have their interests represented in Canberra to the extent that they coincide with those of other, well-organised interest groups. Otherwise, governments can act against them with impunity.
Young people have to rely on policy makers acting in the national interest, rather than juggling special interests. Good luck there.