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How Australia’s ageing population threatens our democracy

An ageing population is a threat to not just the Australian economy, but also our political system. In The Republic, Plato wrote: “it is for the elder man to rule and for the younger to submit”. This concept…

Young people have less and less electoral clout as our population ages. AAP/Marianna Massey

An ageing population is a threat to not just the Australian economy, but also our political system.

In The Republic, Plato wrote: “it is for the elder man to rule and for the younger to submit”. This concept is known as a “gerontocracy” and refers to oligarchical rule of a society by its elders. Such an idea may now become a reality within Australia.

It is now well known that Australia, among a host of other Asian and European countries, is facing a serious challenge in the form of an ageing population. The Australian Bureau of Statistics predicts that the median age of Australians is expected to increase from 36.8 years in 2007 to 45.2 in 2056. The proportion of Australians over 65 years could increase from 13% to 25% during the same time period.

The economic impacts of this demographic change are well documented. An ageing population would place increasing stress on health, aged care services and other sectors. It would result in a decreased labour force and tax base. This need for increased expenditure coupled with decreased revenue makes deficit, debt and an economic downturn more likely.

There have even been recent concerns about the impacts of an ageing population upon the superannuation industry.

Despite the abundance of coverage on the economic consequences, the effects of an ageing population upon our democratic system have received far less attention.

An ageing population will skew voting power and political clout towards older generations. Research suggests that there may be some link between ageing and conservatism, but this has never been conclusively proven. But there is little doubt that older generations have priorities that often differ from those of younger generations or the unborn.

A prime example of this is the case of pension reform. The impending demographic crisis requires reforms to many aged security systems. But as many voters age it becomes distinctly against their self-interest to support such reforms. Simply put, a policy that attempts to reduce the size of unfunded pension systems will likely be opposed by older generations. A recent study predicted that pension reform will only be democratically possible in Germany up until 2012 and France until 2016, after which a critical mass of older voters will make change unlikely.

Worryingly, it is the interests of youth and future generations that require the greatest representation. Addressing issues such as climate change, biodiversity loss, crumbling infrastructure, and youth unemployment are all necessary for our continued prosperity. Unfortunately such reform is unlikely to be the main priority for older voters. The interests of youth and future generations are becoming increasingly important to all of society, yet their democratic voice is proportionally shrinking every day.

Such problems have already been encountered within the European Union. A recent referendum in Austria proposing abolition of conscription was voted down 60% to 40%. However, data from a survey conducted by the Sora Institute suggested that 63% of voters under the age of 30 voted for the reform. Predictably it was voters over the age of 30 that voted to maintain the status quo.

In light of these looming issues a number of countries have begun to implement mechanisms to help offset the effects of a lopsided democracy. Austria has lowered the voting age to 16. This measure is now being discussed in the UK as well. The most lively debate is occurring in Northern Ireland with students under the age of 18 demanding to given voting rights since they also pay taxes.

Hungary has adopted an ombudsman for future generations. A push for a similar body in Norway has also recently begun. Finland and Israel have established a “committee for the future” and “commission for future generations” respectively. The general role of these bodies is to handle complaints, as well as lobby and inform both the general public and the legislature on issues relevant to future generations (who cannot represent themselves) such as environmental degradation.

On the supranational level, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has appointed a special envoy on youth. This has come in the aftermath of a failed attempt to create a UN High Commissioner for Future Generations last year at the Rio+20 Conference on Sustainable Development. Despite this failure, international agreements such as Rio+20 stress the need to actively include youth in political processes. Numerous international conventions have even enshrined the principle of “intergenerational equity” into international law.

Despite this progress internationally there has been little discussion of such reform within Australia. We need to prepare our national institutions for the future. Reform that establishes innovative mechanisms to ensure greater representation for youth and future generations is now a matter of necessity.

The rhetoric of “intergenerational equity” needs to be met with national action. Failure to do so could lead to a gerontocracy that undermines not only the interests of future generations and the young, but all of Australia.

Join the conversation

95 Comments sorted by

  1. none at all

    none

    Niall Ferguson makes an interesting point that the young tend to favour the political left, who spend huge sums to buy votes and lumber the young and their children with the debt. He marvels at their political naivete.
    It's not such a bad thing that older, more conservative voters with a longer view have some influence in supporting more "responsible" government.

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    1. David Maddern

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to none at all

      It seems to me that the only longer view party is the Greens, and there are all ages in that party. It also appears that the left are about 'social' conscience, whereas the right is about 'self' interest and that is a natural age division the other way round than in the article.

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    2. margaret m

      old lady

      In reply to none at all

      I do not like the extreme of left or right but I do like a government that invests our taxpayers money to secure our future to ensure our own population has jobs etc even to the point of a deficit well within reach of repaying over time. It is interesting the world of investors are beating a path to our door they know that our economy is strong and that investment is safe but when our government wants to invest for our benefit it is labelled "spending other peoples money" Was it buying votes to…

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  2. John Campbell

    farmer

    Interesting It seems if you don't like 'democracy' or what it is producing you change the rules. Now why aren't I surprised?

    And as for those 'businessmen' no longer able to rip off superannuation funds and shareholders at their previous rates - well you have to really feel sorry for them.

    Perhaps the changing demographic will make us think about sustainability earlier than we otherwise might and if so that would be no bad thing. Also the perception that there is not enough money to go round…

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    1. margaret m

      old lady

      In reply to John Campbell

      I think we revert to a time when we elected politicians passionate to deliver a great society and a media that took pride in presenting ALL facts factors and caused the politicians to debate at the same time their policies ideas and let the population decide who they vote. The idea we are a basket case financially is to me an UNTRUTH.
      1 Media reform
      2 remove lobby groups
      3 all funding of political parties transparent
      4 once again invest taxpayers dollars into owning essential services eg wind solar seeing big business had little vision to make a change without the incentive of a penalty
      5 give the people a choice of supporting a government bank
      6 increase taxes remove some of the unnecessary scheme that reduce taxation eg negative gearing sending profits off shore
      Just to name a few.

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  3. Suzy Gneist

    Multiple: self-employed, employed, student, mother, volunteer, Free-flyer

    You raise some very relevant issues. I believe that youth should be able to contribute more, not just in votes, but with ideas to government and society. Reducing the voting age is one step, but improving education as well as acknowledging youth contributions where they exist and encouraging them where they do not yet exist is also very important.
    They are capable of more positive input than we often give them credit for and stifling this energy is more destructive than constructive in the long run. I do hope that the concerns I hear youth voice, particularly about the environment or their opportunities to contribute in a meaningful way to society, are being heard and not dismissed by their elders.

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    1. margaret m

      old lady

      In reply to Suzy Gneist

      I agree with what you have said and I realise my concern I have failed unlike you to appreciation the positive of the article. I think being an oldie does not mean that your brain has atrophied and you cannot think rationally I am very much for better education I am for renewable energy and SUSTAINABLE ECONOMY.

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  4. Dale Bloom

    Analyst

    I am quite shocked by this article.

    There is such a thing as age discrimination, but the essence of the article says that we must radically change our political systems because the population will age 8.42 years in the next 49 years, or an average of 0.1718 increase in average age per year.

    I can think of a multitude of reasons why we should radically change our political systems, but increasing average age doesn't even occur on that list.

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  5. Citizen SG

    Citizen

    Actually democracy is not threatened at all by an aging population. The interests of the young are what is threatened.

    According an equal vote to a citizen is democracy. Anything that reduces the power of that vote or leverages the vote in favour of another interested party is what threatens democracy.

    perhaps we might find that as the population ages that the ageing voters act in the interests of their progeny.

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    1. margaret m

      old lady

      In reply to Citizen SG

      I agree Seamus and voters require a delivery of all the truth to make an informed choice no matter what the topic.

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  6. Tony Grant

    Student

    Soylent Green?

    Those that can't (desired field) must teach...the second tier....

    Those that can't afford...Green is Tuesday's!

    The wealthy were exempt...as usual!

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  7. Paul Collins

    Chief Thinker at demografix pty ltd

    I have approached many pollies about giving our 16 and 17 year olds the voluntary right to vote. Turnball thinks the current situation is fine, and so I would expect from the LNP. Labor only have 1 chance to get this in this year and must act now. Stephen Jones and others in Labor are open to the idea.
    We must also consider whether people over the age of 100 really have the right to vote as now we have over 3000....

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    1. Stephen Ralph

      carer

      In reply to Paul Collins

      16 & 17............they wouldn't be able to drive to the polling booth - more people on our public transport on election day.

      One idea too many.

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  8. David Maddern

    logged in via Facebook

    I have heard some very interesting and life changing stuff on the ABB.
    On such talk was by a demographer who said what is under recognised is that the recent birth spike is bigger than the baby boom spike.

    So it would seem the Cavalry is on the way!

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    1. Paul Collins

      Chief Thinker at demografix pty ltd

      In reply to Michael Valenzuela

      Ageing will also bring 'dullness'...
      Innovation will not happen as it did when we were in our demographic dividend and a generational war is looming, fueled by unaffordable housing and a high cost of living. Already the youth are speaking loudly by emigrating. 88,000 left last year and the majority were 25 to 35 year old professionals.

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    2. John Campbell

      farmer

      In reply to Michael Valenzuela

      Well put Michael.

      I would just add one more threat - ignorance. Especially that produced by our media due to spin, omission and opinion pieces, loosely disguised as facts. These opinion pieces often selectively chosen to support only one point of view.

      It seems that many governments are going out of their way to try and keep their populations at large uninformed, I suspect both in order to deflect possible criticism and to make them more 'pliable'.

      Being uninformed and ignorant can make people easily susceptible to fear mongering by, for example, politicians.

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    3. John Campbell

      farmer

      In reply to Paul Collins

      Is that why you are staying here Paul you feel a sort of affinity to our population in general?

      What sort of 'innovation' would you like to see? that which produces bigger and better weapons for example?

      Me I've been waiting for innovation all my life, but unfortunately we still live pretty much as the Romans did except they had better architecture and more robust buildings. Some things have improved such as community health but generally I would think not by all that much.

      Certainly 'civus Romanus sum' is still widely practiced by those with the power and influence to do so.

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    4. Dale Bloom

      Analyst

      In reply to Paul Collins

      To use your logic, the population gets duller as it slowly gets older.

      Not scientifically proven, and more like the population remains brighter for longer.

      Any problems due to a slowly aging population are miniscule compared to doubling our population in the next 35 years.

      That will be totally catastrophic unless extremely well managed, but I have seen nothing yet but total ineptitude in handling the population increase problem.

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    5. Paul Collins

      Chief Thinker at demografix pty ltd

      In reply to Dale Bloom

      Mmmm.. slowly ageing population? It is a rapid process.

      Julia thinks we can go to 40 million by 2050, she is mad as batpoo!
      Mad as batpoo!
      As our natural growth drops to perhaps to zero or even negative over the next 2.5 decades as our deaths double (boomers departing the home planet), what she is really saying is that we must accept a double or even a treble increase in immigration. Not going to happen! Will anyone accept 450,000 or 600,000 net immigrants per year? As I said, mad as batpoo…

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    6. Dale Bloom

      Analyst

      In reply to Paul Collins

      I would think our slowly aging population is due to factors such as a reduction in smoking, and it also appears that the young are now being affected by factors such as diabetes.

      Any increase in aging may not be continuous or linear, and an increase in aging may indeed plateau, and then the average life expectancy begin to decrease as the affects of diseases such as diabetes catch up.

      Population increase is permanent, (without genocide or an atomic war taking place), and I have not seen any constructive planning for that population increase.

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    7. margaret m

      old lady

      In reply to Paul Collins

      Sorry off the track again but have appreciated the many interesting points people have made.
      Paul Collins some interesting points made I am not a supporter of more immigration we need to be able to care and provide services housing etc etc for those people we have now before we add more to exacerbate the problems. We need to look at the non academic and their need to have opportunities for FULTIME work. Too many tax minimising scheme are making it harder to make ends meet I think this is a common problem in some struggling European countries

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    8. Paul Collins

      Chief Thinker at demografix pty ltd

      In reply to Dale Bloom

      Dale
      Indeed we may actually see a reduction in life expectancy as diabetes grows. I actually support a sugar tax on that basis alone.

      Population increase is not permanent at all. There are many countries in population decline now. See links below...

      " Today, 42 per cent of the world population lives in low-fertility countries, that is, countries where women are not having enough children to ensure that, on average, each woman is replaced by a daughter who survives to the age of procreation…

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    9. Stephen Ralph

      carer

      In reply to Paul Collins

      Don't we need to curb population - so therefore low-fertility countries would be good - right?

      Then the countries with an increasing population can move to a country with a "dying" population.

      All the economics in the world won't help an Earth with too many people - particularly one with not enough food and ill people.

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    10. Paul Collins

      Chief Thinker at demografix pty ltd

      In reply to margaret m

      Margaret
      I support and hope for population decline. I want to get there by knowing the actual data and facts, not by being an alarmist.
      We have peaking emigration and they are leaving as economic migrants. Leaving OZ, 88,000 of them last year, as our housing is unaffordable and our cost of living is too high.
      Ecology is close to my heart.
      Sorry if I gave any impression I was pro growth. I am not!

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    11. Paul Collins

      Chief Thinker at demografix pty ltd

      In reply to Stephen Ralph

      Stephen
      Yep. We do not really have to try to curb population growth as the demographic paradox is that as an economy rises, fertility drops and peak population growth was in 1962 and has been dropping since.
      The globe will peak in population and then start its decline this century.

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    12. margaret m

      old lady

      In reply to Paul Collins

      You mention affordable housing as an issue but we have people immigrating here because it is no longer affordable in their countries. I feel we need to stop look at who is really getting advantage profiting from the financial mess that a large part of our worlds people are struggling under. Why the dismantling of the protection of government services eg protections for our industry for our agriculture even for our environment and the worse happening the deregulation of the financial industry we need to separate once again the local banking from the investment banks. We are along way from the debate about young 16, 17 year olds voting but I feel there are issues far more important and critical to our economy and that of the developed world.

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    13. David Thompson

      Marketing Research

      In reply to Paul Collins

      Paul, all the research shows that in cognitive domains such as 'General Knowledge', 'Verbal Fluency', and 'Integrated Thinking', 60-somethings significantly thrash 20-somethings. You are correct that in other cognitive domains - particularly numeracy and visuospatial areas - ability declines from the 30s/40s. From a democratic perspective we need way, way, way more 60-somethings than today's 20-something, who are still living at home when they are 30, have no ritual or formative experiences to justify…

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    14. David Thompson

      Marketing Research

      In reply to Paul Collins

      Indeed, I have. By pointing out that his material and substantive points are built on air and his parent's pocket-money.

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    15. Andrew Smith

      Education Consultant at Australian & International Education Centre

      In reply to Michael Valenzuela

      Quite concerning for younger generations to think that important policy issues can be decided by older generations, including baby boomer bubble, who may put their own short term personal interests first, and less about future of Australia, while we become more conservative, "wowserish" and pining for a sepia tinted view of our own childhoods.

      Many in Australia were aware of the coming ageing population demographics in the mid 80s (including the Labor govt.), those born pre WWII living longer…

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    16. Stephen Ralph

      carer

      In reply to Andrew Smith

      In terms of drugs I think pot is the least of the problems, and would guess that most of the baby boomers would call for it's legalisation. What's another drug on the open market these days.

      And my guess is also that pot is probably mostly smoked by baby boomers these days anyway, with different choices of drugs all the rage. Pot would most definitely be seen as that old hippie shit.

      And in terms of the younger generations paying for most services now and in the future, AND supporting older…

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  9. Fred Pribac

    logged in via email @internode.on.net

    A brave article - considering that many of the most ascerbic comment writers here seem to be retired curmudgeons unlikley to be sympathetic to younger whippersnappers!

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    1. none at all

      none

      In reply to Fred Pribac

      There are probably far more retired people with an excellent education long experience of life, than there are old curmudgeons. In my case, it matters little what our politicians do for me, but I have four adult offspring and a horde of grand-children and I'm shocked at the debt the Gillard government are leaving them to inherit. My political concern concerns only my progeny. As I pointed out in an earlier posting, the young tend to support the Left, who are mortgaging their future and the wisdom of their elders is their only hope.

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    2. margaret m

      old lady

      In reply to Fred Pribac

      I don't think it was a brave article but a not uncommon short sighted assessment from a person who to me may have too little experience but that is not a handicap of youth but of a deep interest of the topic.

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    3. Paul Collins

      Chief Thinker at demografix pty ltd

      In reply to none at all

      Bob
      The debt your offspring will really be left will be caused by the increase in pensions and health that the boomers will drain from the system. Our fiscal gap only widens from here on in.

      1. GST must raise to 20 % to tax the over 65's more and the wages tax free threshold must raise to approx $40k and welfare rise to compensate.
      2. The PPOR must be included in the asset test for pensions for any value over $750k. It is simply not fair that a full pension is given to someone in a $3million…

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    4. none at all

      none

      In reply to Paul Collins

      Paul,
      Thanks for your concern. I agree with most of your points - most of the examples you mention need attention - but I'm surprised that you didn't realise that "My political concern concerns only my progeny" was in answer to the criticism of oldies being concerned only with their own generation. In that context, by extension, I meant that our breadth of vision is such that we're concerned about future generations, rather than our own. That's a fundamental evolutionary principle. No government is going to legislate for just one family!
      As for mortgages, I've always advised starting small and getting out of debt quickly. I don't expect the current artificial Australian property market and its underlying causes to last forever and overextending yourself can be a risky business.

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    5. Fred Pribac

      logged in via email @internode.on.net

      In reply to none at all

      Bob: note that I qualified my generalized assertion of curmudgeonliness to being a probable characteristic of "the most ascerbic" commentators.

      There is evidence of a wealth of balanced matured talents displayed in the comment streams as well. I also agree with your basic thesis that not all of us baby boomers only vote in ways that assure us of our own comforts.

      That a democratic system makes decisions influenced by the make up of the voting constituency is unsurprising. However, the authors depiction of a coming criss due to the rampant self-interest of the grizzled is a weakness in his arguments.

      There are indeed many of us wrinklies who share passionate concerns for the future welfare of the following generations and the earth as a whole. We vote accordingly!

      That Luke Kemp is champing at the bit and showing signs of frustration under the yoke of the over 50's bodes well. I wish him all the best and commend his efforts here.

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    6. none at all

      none

      In reply to Fred Pribac

      Well said, Fred.
      Yet again, apparent differences in opinion, expressed in abbreviated comments, melt magically away when we take time to explain ourselves better. We could obviously share a beer in my sauna without raising our voices!
      I think that we simply need to look long and hard at any changes to electoral rules. If we increase the franchise for the young, should we tinker with that of the elderly? Should we consider disenfranchising prisoners, people subject to fines, people under psychiatric treatment, people of low mental or educational levels? Our current transitional state between a modified Westminster system of democracy and a developing oligarchy certainly needs to be addressed, but we need to be very, very careful. For example, the Gillard government's technique of an unpopular minority government trying to present new legislation as a series of poorly researched ultimata would be quite inappropriate, if it ever came to that.

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    7. alfred venison

      records manager (public sector)

      In reply to none at all

      "I think that we simply need to look long and hard at any changes to electoral rules. If we increase the franchise for the young, should we tinker with that of the elderly? Should we consider disenfranchising prisoners, people subject to fines, people under psychiatric treatment, people of low mental or educational levels?"
      if you're gong to consider disenfranchisement of various categories of people, like the stupid, the elderly, the criminal, why not just make it non-compulsory? -a.v.

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  10. Michael Lardelli

    logged in via Facebook

    The implication of this article is that we should aim to reduce the average age of the population. However, a Department of Immigration and Citizenship report by McDonald and Kippen showed that high rates of immigration make little difference to the age structure of the population so that will not solve it. And pushing population growth through increasing the birth rate will food security security in a world of decreasing energy supplies and climate change. (Did you know that Australia only produces 1.6x its grain needs in a drought year meaning that we could not feed double our population under CURRENT energy supply and dietary patterns: http://www.resilience.org/stories/2010-05-06/can-we-feed-%E2%80%9Cbig-australia%E2%80%9D ).

    The ageing demographic is just something that society will have to adjust to. But there will be intergenerational resentment as resources decline and our children realise that their lives cannot be as profligate as their parents'.

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    1. Andrew Smith

      Education Consultant at Australian & International Education Centre

      In reply to Michael Lardelli

      Paul Ehrlich the "Malthusian" and author of "Zero Population Growth" had catastrophic predictions about food supply but these did not eventuate, as he too used headline quantitative data, but was wrong due to ignoring qualititative aspect e.g. innovation and the "green revolution".

      Ehrlich was also a former associate of John Tanton and The Social Contract who are against population growth (plus many other issues taking aim at immigrants leading to calls for dramatically reduced immigration), but…

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  11. Henriette Vanechop
    Henriette Vanechop is a Friend of The Conversation.

    retired

    Is "democracy" the best ? or does it create anarchy ?

    Give the vote to teenagers ? Haven't you read that the brain does not mature till mid-twenties, until then the emotions are supposed to rule without reason , the front lobes yet undeveloped ? Hormones raging ?
    What ages dominate up-risings ?

    I certainly regret my actions in my late teens.

    Enforce voting by all very aged people ? Have you seen bus loads of very senior citizens arriving at the booth ? How many have been "advised" about where to tick ?

    What alternatives would be better for the next generations ?

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    1. margaret m

      old lady

      In reply to Henriette Vanechop

      I think the voluntary voting system would be a disaster for our democracy and for the majority of ordinary citizens. I am still horiffied by the program about the Working Poor in America and the program I watched while overseas on holidays about the what I would call a rigged set up of the American voting system.

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    2. Paul Collins

      Chief Thinker at demografix pty ltd

      In reply to margaret m

      Why would Voluntary youth voting be a disaster for the majority or 'ordinary' citizens? That sounds very undemocratic, to not want to give the minorities a voice and very typical of an 'aged' closed minded view.

      What you have just written is the actual threat to our democracy we face! When minorities no longer count.

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    3. none at all

      none

      In reply to margaret m

      Margaret, I'm in sympathy with many of your opinions, but not "I think the voluntary voting system would be a disaster for our democracy".
      Where would we be without the "donkey (compulsory) vote"? I'm unaware of any proper analysis, but I suspect that it favours the Left. If you like what you're seeing in Canberra now, you should support compulsory voting, regardless of its relationship to democracy. I should add that another correspondent points out that only attendance at the polling station is compulsory - not the actual vote, however.

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    4. margaret m

      old lady

      In reply to none at all

      I would say this present government is at least has invested in the people and to me in the future. Deficit yes but not just for the tax lurks of the few but an investment and for the benefit of the many. We are well able to pay of that investment. I think the difference is the vote is held on a Saturday and all are given the time to vote and yes there is a donkey vote but I think when at the polling booth more decided to make their preferrence known still a far better system than voluntary I have no doubts on that at all.

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    5. alfred venison

      records manager (public sector)

      In reply to margaret m

      "what I would call a rigged set up of the American voting system". that'd be what professor chomsky refers to as "the one party state with two right wings". -a.v.

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    6. alfred venison

      records manager (public sector)

      In reply to none at all

      "only attendance at the polling station is compulsory - not the actual vote, however." so, if you're not looking for the citizen's vote, but for their "attendance at a polling station" then why not bite the bullet and make it non-compulsory? a free vote freely (voluntarily) cast. and if you're really worried about the numbers dropping to below a quorum you could throw in a "fin" for everyone who fronts up and drops a ballot in the box. and, which demographic would vote less if it weren't compulsory: the young or the old? -a.v.

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    1. Paul Collins

      Chief Thinker at demografix pty ltd

      In reply to margaret m

      Margaret
      1. 16/17 should have the VOLUNTARY right to vote.
      2. It is not compulsory to vote now. It is only compulsory to turn up and get your name ticked off. Filling out the ballot, is voluntary.
      3. If we have more people over 65, then why not balance the govt and policy with more 16/17 year olds voting. After all, it is their future mainly they will be voting for.
      4. The youth must go from exclusion to inclusion and the aged from success to significance.

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    2. margaret m

      old lady

      In reply to Paul Collins

      I think you miss the important issues I think there is no need to change the voting age the majority of young people of that age are completing their high school years and the beginning of freedom from school years looking for work and having fun. I think 18 is young enough for those really interested. But what is your comment to what I listed as the REAL THREAT TO OUR DEMOCRACY?

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    3. Paul Collins

      Chief Thinker at demografix pty ltd

      In reply to margaret m

      Margaret
      1. There is no real threat. That is a headline to attract attention.
      2. After speaking to many politicians about this issue of VOLUNTARY youth voting, they have all assured me that young people are interested in politics, far more than many older people are. I am 100% sure that a 16 year old today in 2013 is far more politically aware than an 18 year old was in 1970. Have you heard of social media?
      3. Why would you object to VOLUNTARY youth voting and giving a voice to those youth that are informed and interested?

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    4. Suzy Gneist

      Multiple: self-employed, employed, student, mother, volunteer, Free-flyer

      In reply to Paul Collins

      I can confirm this for some of our local youth: They engage in youth summits on political as well as environmental issues from the age of about 14. They volunteer at community events, plant trees in the local park, etc.
      They may be a minority in their age group, but their individual engagement is proof enough that they have an interest in decision making. I would think that even among other age groups, the number of those engaging actively is only small.
      I would prefer citizens, young or old, who have an active interest in democracy also to have the opportunity to vote if they wish to - it doesn't seem to be a danger to me to have people participate, disengagement is a greater danger to a healthy democracy in my view.

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  12. CH Soames

    Cytogeneticist

    A very dramatic statement that, that by virtue of increasing in number from 13 to 25%, over-65s would acquire absolute power. That is literally the claim; inflammatory writing not appropriate for a forum such as this, to begin with.
    A factual error: the author is, as another replier has pointed out, mistaken in identifying democracy as the entity that would be threatened with a geriatric population bubble. Democracy is served by each individual's having a voice, no matter in what proportions particular…

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  13. Greg Byrne

    logged in via Facebook

    The short-term answer is increased immigration but in the longer term governments have to do a lot more for young families in terms of housing costs, family support and so on to enable large families to thrive. Most western nations need labour market reforms to enable large scale recruitment of new workers from overseas.

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    1. margaret m

      old lady

      In reply to Greg Byrne

      Globalisation sent our unskilled jobs off shore government and business knew that businesses supported meant more profit why governments did I will never understand. Globalisation push to divest govenment essential services income generating asset, public housing is one. Then we had the tax avoidance scheme of negative gearing which also meant the cost for first home buyers increasingly has taken that dream our of the area of possibility for many. And many of those investors would not consider many who need housing. Is your idea to reduce wages maybe you would like the American System watch the program the Working Poor the example

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  14. Andrew Stiles

    Teacher

    I would be happier to discuss changing the voting age, had you not hung it up so much on the "excuse" of an aging demographic. I think I would lean more in favor of lowering the voting age but your article has actually given me cause for doubt. As I drift towards middle age I wonder why you think older people will support the youth vote, when you've effectively made them them seem like burden and a cause of the ills of society, not a group of people who have worked hard and paid taxes for the approximately…

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    1. margaret m

      old lady

      In reply to Andrew Stiles

      Thank you for your comments and I agree. I think the freedom. rights and responsibility issue is too often trivalised or neglected.

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  15. margaret m

    old lady

    IT is interesting that Paul Collins does not mention globalisation the requirement to sell off taxpayer owned Government income generating assets for our essential services and how this has impacted on our ability to maintain services and weakened the bargaining power of our governments.
    Successive governments until now have divested not invested it was those very assets of government monopoly provided capital for the benefit of the population and the government treasury. I think the ideological…

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  16. Fred Moore

    Builder

    Awright!
    Let's kill off all the oldies, steal their junk, live a good life and then change the rules when we get old so we can live a full life.

    AWESOME dudes! And CEOs and the stock markerteers are backing us to the hilt!

    But what if they got nukes?

    OOPS!

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  17. Stephen Ralph

    carer

    Kevin Rudd, Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott are all in their early-mid 50s. Hardly ageing politicians.

    Knowing a little of ancient Greece, perhaps Plato was referring to something entirely other than politics.

    There also seem to be a range of ages (from 30s upwards) in the candidates and sitting members of all parties.
    Just as there are a few old fuddy duddies and a few young turks of both genders.

    There needs to be a balance of older and younger in my opinion, and I don't think we have too many older v younger in our political offerings.

    I also don't think that being an older voter necessarily means voting for an older candidate - that hasn't seemed particularly apparent in recent years. I think many older folk want to see some vibrant and keen younger people in politics to give them HOPE for a better future (whether true or not).

    I don't believe old people want to see old people as a reflection in government.

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  18. Daniel Teghe

    Sociologist

    Luke, as a somewhat 'elderly' person (and scholar who has researched elderly care), I am disappointed to see you have produced such a poorly researched/argued opinion piece. The stuff that you're recycling here is quite outdated, the scholarship on elderly (not 'aged') care has moved on from the alarmist stuff you have recycled. Our society becoming older is not going to lead to catastrophic economic effects, neither is it going to lead to such conservatism that it is going to inconvenience your…

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  19. Christina Birdsall-Jones

    Anthropologist

    There's are several points in this article which are placed to support the author's contention, but nothing we haven't seen before. These points are true; the proportion of elderly in the Australian population will increase, they will need pensions and medical care and yes, many people become increasingly conservative as they grow older. I don't see why it should be alarming that the elderly will continue to have a vote despite age, weariness and conservative tendencies. It's hardly newsworthy…

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  20. Matt Moran

    logged in via Facebook

    Luke, appreciate the efforts, but Think BETTER, NOT BIGGER.

    Population growth is already linked to all of Australia's major problems - we need to be moving to a stable population.

    A stable population will:
    - Relieve overstretched infrastructure including hospitals, schools, roads and public transport
    - Ease cost of living pressures including housing, energy, water and transport
    - Protect our environment including food, water & energy resources, native bushland & animal habitats
    - Promote…

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    1. Paul Collins

      Chief Thinker at demografix pty ltd

      In reply to Matt Moran

      Matt, urban congestion and poverty would not stop just because of population growth. Population growth is not the single issue at all.
      You information on Japan, I assume is the age dependency ratios, which includes their shrinking kids. Not very factual when talking about the old-age dependency ratios. Japan is the worst in the world and certainly not to be envied at all for its old-age dependency ratios.

      http://www.economist.com/node/13611235

      http://www.wpro.who.int/world_health_day/2012/WHD2012INFORMATION/en/index1.html
      Notice who is number 2?

      http://www.globalsherpa.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/11/Old-Age-Dependency-Ratio-by-Country.gif

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    2. Andrew Smith

      Education Consultant at Australian & International Education Centre

      In reply to Paul Collins

      As the Green's say, it's about how WE live, not how many.

      Does the Stable Population Party (and Sustainable Population Australia) have research evidence of direct causal links between population (growth) and negative outcomes above, or is it simply correlating subjective opinions, to prove their preference?

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  21. Luke Kemp

    PhD Candidate in International Relations and Environmental Policy at Australian National University

    Hi everyone,

    Many thanks for the insightful and thoughtful comments. This article definitely has succeeded in getting a conversation started! I'd just like to provide a few quick general comments and clarifications:

    1. The intention of this article was not to denigrate the value of the elderly or to suggest that we need to reverse the ageing trend (that would be impossible). The point here is simply that youth and the unborn are democratically underrepresented and this situation is getting…

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    1. David Thompson

      Marketing Research

      In reply to Luke Kemp

      "The point here is simply that youth and the unborn are democratically underrepresented and this situation is getting progressively worse."
      Youth are represented by their parents. The one's who pay their pocket-money, and wash their clothes. As for the "unborn", well that hydro/skunk grass you kids smoke should be a higher class crime than heroin.

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    2. Luke Kemp

      PhD Candidate in International Relations and Environmental Policy at Australian National University

      In reply to Paul Collins

      Hi Paul,

      Many thanks. I'm definitely an advocate for voluntary youth voting. I'd also love to see an increasing emphasis upon politics and political philosophy in the curriculum to accompany this.

      That being said, perhaps my larger interest lies in the establishment of an Australian ombudsman for future generations. It would be interesting to get your thoughts on this as well.

      Thanks again for your commentary!

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    3. Paul Collins

      Chief Thinker at demografix pty ltd

      In reply to Luke Kemp

      Hi Luke
      It may be time to perhaps write a letter to various Labor politicians who would see the electoral advantage in giving 16/17 the voluntary right to vote. I also suggest you contact Tom Whitty at theproject via his twitter at @twhittyer to see if you can get a spot. It is newsworthy and right up their demographic. You need to make it happen and there will be no chance after the Libs are in. I fear, due to demographics, that we will see the longest run of the Libs in history. You need to make…

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    4. James Jenkin

      EFL Teacher Trainer

      In reply to Luke Kemp

      Hey Luke, there's a reason children don't get to shape the nation. It's because they're immature and unskilled.

      Or are you saying you'd be happy for twelve-year-olds to install the wiring in your house, drive your car, and look after your bank account?

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    5. Peter Ormonde

      Farmer

      In reply to James Jenkin

      Ah if only age conferred maturity and skill James :)

      Strangely enough I've just had a 16 year old apprentice hook up my solar panels as part of a team. In the US the driving age is 14. And given my experiences with banks of late I reckon an eight year old might be a preferred option - couldn't do much worse than the mechanical care afforded by the IT gadgetry that looks after me now.

      Not 12 but I think there's a reasonable argument that anyone old enough to work (and pay taxes) is old enough…

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  22. John Kelmar

    Small Business Consultant

    When I was young I was told to respect my elders. In those days Managers and Politicians did not achieve their position until they were in the 50s. Today we find people in their 20s as Managers and then wonder why the businesses struggle.

    Now that I am in my 60s, I am the person that should be respected by the younger generation, instead of the abuse I received recently from the youngster at the Department of Fair Work. He refused to answer any of my questions, and when he brought down his Manager, she was just as useless - unable to answer any of my simple questions one would expect of a person who was employed to serve the public.

    To the young people who think the world should revolve around their naive ideas, us older folk have fought hard to achieve what we have over the past 40 years, and will fight again to ensure that we are treated with respect and honour in our dying years.

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  23. Michel Syna Rahme

    logged in via email @hotmail.com

    I have learnt a lot since I was 18, and we should respect our elders to a certain degree. But that was an absolutely brilliant article!

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  24. Peter Sommerville

    Scientist & Technologist

    What a heap of crap. What you are arguing for is against a democracy and for a meritocracy. Go back to school.

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  25. alfred venison

    records manager (public sector)

    all of this is moot. imo.

    representative democracy as we know it will wither away & we will evolve a system of direct democracy via the internet. it will be too hot to go out & vote. but i'm serious about the internet. people who think social media politicising youth warrants extending them the vote are just scratching the surface. the era is over when we lived through a century every decade. how old are social media? and we're already talking about extending the franchise based on their effects. -a.v.

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  26. Henriette Vanechop
    Henriette Vanechop is a Friend of The Conversation.

    retired

    In reply to Alfred Venisson

    No proof of mental capacity is required to vote. For many years i distributed leaflets at the polling booths. From voters remarks, and from what follows elections, i wonder whether those very elections are not just a.. costly circus !
    Big business decides on the policies, anyway. If the right wins they have a free hand; if the left wins spokes soon get in the wheels.
    Could the portfolios be run by competent persons, irrespective of their political leanings ?

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    1. Stephen Ralph

      carer

      In reply to Henriette Vanechop

      There are those rumours that big business cartels run the world, and politicians do their bidding.

      In many cases I'd ask for my money back.

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    2. alfred venison

      records manager (public sector)

      In reply to Henriette Vanechop

      i couldn't agree more, Henriette Vanechop. a costly compulsory circus because real power has shifted to the rich & big (corporate) business in our time & our political system has not kept up.
      the internet is not factored in yet to our political system. web 2.0 has much more to offer than leaving comments on a gov't site or paying our taxes on-line. we need to utilise web2.0 & not to be tweeted at, or facebook friended, you tubed but to cast a meaningful vote on issues debated in canberra in real time. the means are here for direct democracy but we haven't taken them up yet but we will. -a.v.

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    3. John Campbell

      farmer

      In reply to Henriette Vanechop

      Yes, as I have often repeated you can decide between parties but you cant decide between policies

      The old story - you have a free choice - being shot at dawn or being hanged at dusk. ( No one very often talks about the power wielded by those who decide what options we have as apposed to the rest of us who can choose between those options).

      And I think you are also correct in your assessment right wing partied have for years being giving away power to big business. partly because it gives them…

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  27. Chris O'Neill

    Victim of Tony Abbotts Great Big New Tax

    "An ageing population would place increasing stress on health, aged care services and other sectors."

    These will cost more than the old age pension. It's all very well to attempt to reduce the pension liability by setting up superannuation but that isn't the biggest problem. Drugs are a very big part of health costs, BTW.

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    1. John Rutherford

      Worker

      In reply to Chris O'Neill

      Make all drugs legal( see portugal ) and let the hospitals sell them as they end up with them anyway.

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  28. denis cowan

    logged in via email @gmail.com

    Morning.

    The issues raised re superannuation

    As one of the young old (65-75) I am part of that baby boomer blip which will be over by 2050. Although that it is over 30 years away and I will be gone by then, I think we need to be planning for a post baby boomers world.

    The Australian Human Rights Commission report on "Increasing participation among older workers" comments that the economic benefits of the increase of mature age workers staying in the workforce will be between 1 to 3 % of…

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