Treasury’s intergenerational report paints bleak future for Australian kids – Jenna Price

August 28, 2023

The 2023 Intergenerational Report forecasts Australia’s path to prosperity over the next 40 years which includes the move to clean energy and the shift from IT to artificial intelligence.

I occasionally (frequently) freak out about the world my grandchildren will inherit and that’s driven massive changes in my behaviour. Where once I would have rejected spending thousands of dollars on solar panels, here I am a few months after installation and my power bills are teensy. I just have to ignore the cost of the bloody things. Where once I might not have cared about recycling/reusing/repairing, now we have industrial-level composting and six kinds of bins (OK, I exaggerate but you get me).

We have three generations in this house, highly intergenerational, a word I would never use except here we are, at the launch of Treasury’s sixth intergenerational report (IGR) and it feels so real. All the things which keep me awake at night as a family member are the things which have kept successive treasurers alert and alarmed.

Climate (this one’s so terrifying the Prime Minister won’t let us see his report). Getting old. Worrying about where my kids will live. Getting long-term sick.

Trying to make sure my pelvic floor can deal with throwing a dumpling toddler into the air and what happens when it can’t. Treasurers have not, so far, put this on the agenda but trust me, it’s there, buried between the pages of old age and constant caregiving.

Strange dreamy nights

And not reassured at all by Treasurer Jim Chalmers’ speech to the National Press Club. The economy will slow. Australia will have successive fat deficits. Old people will need looking after and where’s the money coming from, where’s the labour coming from. Our climate is boiling (OK, he didn’t exactly use those words).

Or as the IGR says: “Slower economic growth will place pressure on the tax base at a time of rising costs, creating a long-term fiscal challenge.”

We are getting old and cold and settled in our ways (thanks, Joni) and that needs to stop.

I’ve already outlived my parents and my parents’ parents but doubt I’ll get to the 90s (shithouse genes). Still, many of us will live much longer than our grandparents, be healthier than they were (good work if you stopped smoking, and if you stopped drinking like a fish and eating TimTams before bedtime) and our kids will have fewer kids than we did. We had three. Not one of mine will do the same.

So I asked a few experts what they considered to be the absolutely biggest concern for Generation A, or whatever it is we call the children of the millennials. Otherwise known as my grandchildren and their friends.

Save the planet. These kids need somewhere to live.

Independent economist and councillor for the Climate Council Nicki Hutley says the most urgent concern is climate change. It will cost us a motza unless we act on both renewables and the elimination of fossil fuels. She says we must plan to phase out fossil fuels much sooner than later: “The cost of not acting is about ten times what it would cost to act.”

Also, we need to give a hand to developing countries in their transition to renewables. Obviously.

Speaking of renewables, children are a gloriously renewable resource. Ask me how. No, don’t. But as Miranda Stewart, taxation law expert at the University of Melbourne and at ANU, wrote at the last IGR, we have a fertility freefall. It is way too hard to have babies, care for babies, house babies. She says we need universal free childcare to make sure “all that human capital we have in our highly educated female workforce is fully deployed”.

“Corporate tax reform won’t save us. We need to focus on how we deal with assets, earned income and the contribution we make to care in this society and we need to properly share the burden of that care of both young and old,” she says.

I have this fantasy I will be able to stay at home until I cark it. But I see the burden that places on the children of my friends, I see the burden it places on my friends who are caring for parents with multiple competing illnesses (honestly, the word comorbidites is just hideous, so no, I won’t be using it).

And home is hard for those who can’t afford one. I love that bit of the IGR, under Measuring What Matters, which describes a “society where people live peacefully, feel safe, have financial security and access to housing”.

Danielle Wood, chief executive of the Grattan Institute, is completely on board with that one. She says we can’t sustain a society where house prices continue to pull apart from income.

“We need to increase density in the locked-up middle ring of suburbs in our major cities so generation A will be living in apartments, close to jobs and to amenities,” she says.

Also, and this is exciting and reminiscent of the wild ride before the 2019 election where real reform was on the agenda, she says we “need to revisit discussions about negative gearing and capital gains tax discount”.

Yes, please. And let’s avoid the embarrassment of retired people trying again to protect their wealth at great cost to every other generation. When you make a gigantic fuss about your franking credits, you look like mean old gits.

Emma Dawson, executive director of independent think tank Per Capita, says she’s not a fan of the generational game but we genuinely have to change from taxing income from actual labour to taxing investment. Love this for us.

“For all I admire Jim Chalmers’ attempts with the Petroleum Resource Rent Tax and superannuation tax concessions, we need to bite the bullet on our broken system and do a root and branch overhaul of the way we tax working people and non-working assets,” she says.

Let’s revisit the 2019 election campaign and this time choose the path that’s good for all of us and not just some of us. Six intergenerational reports. Hang on, hold your breath and let’s fix this before the next one.

This article was published by Hunter Valley News, August 25 2023. Written by Jenna Price.