GREG BAILEY. The Liberal National Party, the Baby-boomers and the quest for victory in the May Election.

Feb 12, 2019

If, as seems likely from the polls, the ALP wins the next federal election it will not be through the failure of the LNP to throw up a massive scare campaign. Conservative parties ranging from the medium to the far right adopt lowest common denominator strategies to foment an underlying sense of fear that seems constantly resident in so many voters. But now the generational change between the Baby Boomers and Generation X and Y is becoming more and more pronounced and creates problems for those conservative parties who seek to retain power through the retention of a fear based campaign.

The level of fear being invoked in this election is arguably higher than it has been since the turn of the millennium. Here are a few reasons contributing to this underlying fear: wage growth has flat lined in an economy where glaring inequities stand out and underemployment remains very high; an underlying recognition of the visible effects of climate change that has finally penetrated the consciousness of most people, aided by the Tasmanian fires and the Queensland floods, plus the sight of dead fish on the Darling river; anxiety about immigration flows from the middle east and the horn of Africa being pushed as hard as possible by the commercial media and some LNP politicians. Each of these three is a fertile ground for the creation of even greater fear amongst the voters, engendered both by the LNP and exacerbated by the commercial television news coverage and by the tabloid papers of the Murdoch stable.

The LNP will likely struggle to win the votes of the generations born from 1980 onwards. It is the previous generation–the so-called Baby Boomers–that is reaping the consequences of the largesse (See Ian McCauley P and I 4/2/19) made available to them through the steady expansion of economic growth post WWII: relatively low house prices, near full employment, and a rapidly increasing social wage from 1972 onwards. Add to this their capacity to accumulate compulsory superannuation thanks to Paul Keating in the early nineties, and the economic security of most people was relatively strong and seen to be such.

 All of this began to unravel for the post-baby boomer generations when there occurred a unilateral commitment by the two main political parties to deregulation and privatization. This has produced a well-documented set of outcomes – a weakening of the union movement, massive pay differentials, out of control house prices, the financialization of the economy, the collapse of apprenticeship training–, all of which has considerably exacerbated economic insecurity. 

Initially these developments were seen by most observers in isolation as individual outcomes of the changes in economy and governance, but now younger generations are joining the dots together and realizing this is an integral part of what the economic/social system in which they are embedded has become. The fears–now more than subliminal–arising from this are exacerbated by the ongoing digitalization of the work place and the unknown consequences to which this might give rise. And finally, to top off the whole lot, the post baby boomer generations’ fear of the effects of climate change is intense given that they will be the group most likely having to deal with the massively changing climatic patterns about which we have been warned for the last fifty years.

This then produces a situation where generations X and Y are unlikely to vote for the LNP, and more likely to swing to the Greens, or to the ALP on the belief that the Greens will never do more than hold the balance of power. 

This then leaves the field to the outer-suburban battlers and to the baby boomers. The latter are now mostly retired with secure income flows and a desire to enjoy their retirement. Retirement has almost become an extension of their career path where as much has to be packed in as possibly can before the requirement to care for elderly parents or grandchildren. Retirement activity seems to be defined by preoccupation with overseas trips and other forms of distraction from the real world. Though only an intuitive assessment, the amount of advertising in the print and electronic media for cruises in Europe and Alaska, and short stay luxury holidays in South-east Asia and India–with everything provided–has increased astonishingly from what it was even five years ago For example, the Melbourne Age of 9/2/19 contains a 56 pages travel supplement, even with other full page advertisements for luxury trips found elsewhere in the same paper. This is surely a recognition that the baby boomers constitute an identifiable market desperate to consume whilst it still can (that is, by being in good health and having the financial resources to do so). 

Anything that can threaten this retirement life will be seen by the apparatchiks in the Liberal Party as being ripe for fear mongering, especially since polls consistently show it is the older cohort that tends to support the LNP. Anything that threatens their flow of finance–from negatively geared houses, imputation credits to increasing capital gains taxes on profits from shares–will be taken up and used. After all–at least this is the perception–haven’t they worked hard all their lives and so are now entitled to live off the fat of the land? And the boomers too, whilst being aware of the potential ravages of climate change, will sit content in the belief that they will have shuffled off the mortal coil before it becomes too bad and they can no longer enjoy their cruises.

Much of the wealth of the baby boomers has come from appreciation in land prices as a consequence of increased immigration and speculation. It has little to do with capital improvement or productive work, yet under no circumstances will the LNP–nor the ALP for that matter–undermine the sense of wealth amongst the boomers that arises from possession of property. Whilst this continues to give rise to attacks on the ALP’s too muted, but necessary reforms to negative gearing on housing, it also morphs off into attacks against the Chinese for buying up so much Australian property, both rural and residential. It is this, it is argued, that forces up prices for first home buyers, though nothing is mentioned about how it directly benefits existing home buyers through the increase in the value of their houses.

Of course, not all baby boomers are susceptible to the kinds of fear mongering the LNP will throw at them, but there is enough in this group with a deserved entitlement of prosperity who will respond positively to threats of economic degradation under Labor.

(I am a Baby Boomer)

Dr Greg Bailey is an Honorary Researcher, College of the Arts, Social Sciences and Commerce, Latrobe University.

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