Baby Boomers are stepping back and “smelling the roses” after a lifetime of good opportunities and healthcare as job and home ownership prospects dwindle for younger generations in Australia.
That’s the opinion of 70-year-old former Western Australia Premier Colin Barnett who appeared on ABC’s Q&A on Monday night, on a panel described by host Hamish Macdonald as “all Boomers” including a “borderline Boomer”.
“I think for the Baby Boomer generation … it has been a prosperous and safe time for most of the Baby Boomers,” Mr Barnett said.
“For the younger generation, I think most of us at my age are more concerned about the life facing our children and particularly our grandchildren. It is going to be a lot more difficult.
“All sorts of issues are arising almost on an annual basis but I think our policy settings are pretty good.
“I mean, let’s face it, Australia despite the COVID crisis is a good place to be … and I think we’ve got a lot to be confident (of) in the future.”
He said fairness and equality were important in an egalitarian society and he didn’t believe Baby Boomers “have had to sacrifice much at all”.
“Most Baby Boomers are really healthy – as you could expect for our age – most of them own a home, most of them have superannuation and the like,” Mr Barnett said.
“So for most people, it’s a pretty good older age as it approaches. For younger people, it is going to be more difficult to own a home and maybe, to some extent, the aspirations are above what is reality.”
“In the 50s and 60s, most young couples went out and bought a flat or an old home and did it up. Now, those opportunities aren’t really there for many.
“Also, my generation had job security for most people.
“Young people today are going to have multiple changes of career, occupation and the like and that’s going to be challenging so I think the Baby Boomers are stepping back, smelling the roses a little bit and wanting to see good policy, sensible policies that are compassionate and are fair to all.”
Journalist and author Kerry O’Brien, 75, outed himself as the man on the cusp of the generation, born in 1945 at the end of World War II.
“I think in many ways we’ve been a lucky generation and I was actually born six days after the war so technically I’m probably just pre-Boomer but I’ll happily be a part of that generation because I think some great things have happened in that period and we did live through the worst of the Cold War and the great threat of nuclear war but we did get to bask in the sunlight post-war,” he said.
“But, you know, I’m a parent and like every Boomer parent I would want at least as much if not more opportunity for more children and my grandchildren than I had and certainly my parents had and I don’t believe that’s going to be the case.”
He said it was “too simplistic” to split generations to say one was more selfish than the other “as if there was some kind of conspiracy about it, some kind of collective managing of our world”.
“That’s simply not the case,” he said.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics defines Baby Boomers as those born between 1946 and 1964 “during the post-war economic boom”.
“It was a period characterised by high rates of marriage and fertility, high levels of immigration, rising rates of female participation in both tertiary education and the workforce, and the genesis of the two-income household as the norm,” the ABS states.
Asked by Macdonald if the community is “too quick to dump on Boomers”, OzHarvest chief executive and founder Ronni Khan replied: “Absolutely”.
“Definitely,” she said.
“Given that I’m one of them, I absolutely think we’re too quick to dump on us.
“However, there is $2.3 trillion worth of money that’s going to be transferred intergenerationally over the next 15 years. Now let’s hope that we know how to use that world.”
Businesswoman and University of Wollongong Chancellor Jillian Broadbent also acknowledged the “wealth transfer” that will occur in future, adding that she hadn’t seen widespread “resentment” towards her older generation.
“I think there is a certain amount of respect and recognition, especially with women of the social change,” she said.
“As a female who stayed in the workforce, I get a fair bit of respect for persevering against adversity, I suppose, so I haven’t seen that resentment but I do think that there are tweaks to economic policy that could deal with some of the resentment that might be there.”
Aboriginal pastor Ray Minniecon, from St John’s Anglican Church in Sydney, brought his own perspective to the situation.
“In our culture we don’t dismiss our elders,” he said.
“They’re a part of our community. We respect them. We listen to them and we want them to be a part of our community. The Boomer thing is not really a part of our thinking or our culture.”
He said the Baby Boomer experience was not the reality for Indigenous Australians of the same age.
Mr Minniecon noted the referendum to alter the Australian Constitution, allowing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to be included in the census and for the Government to make specific laws for them, didn’t occur until 1967 – after Baby Boomers were born.
“So coming out of that period of time there, we’ve had to negotiate some very, very rough times,” he said.
“And we still do negotiate through those social issues. The racisms and all of those kind of challenges, the health, the incarceration rates.
“All of those things, that’s part of our community’s challenges.
“So the ‘Boomer’ situation, we would love to have big amounts of money locked away and our superannuation to live off but that’s not our reality.”