A Measure of the Future

I was reading an article on Friday that stated a question like, what type of Australia do we want to live in? I thought great an article about values, human rights charter, creating the nation that we can all call home, inclusion, hope for the marginalised. To my initial chargrin the article referred to the impending release of the 4th Intergenerational Report (IGR) http://goo.gl/XUW3yg These reports have taken place on average every 3 – 5 years, starting in 2002 and seek to project our economy 40 years into the future. They are essentially a treasury report focusing on whether we can expect to be financially better or worse off in the future, based on current Government policy projections.

Key issues relate to the 3 P’s of population, participation in the work force and productivity. Population obviously refers to the amount of people living in the country, their ages as well as their relative needs. Of course one of the key concerns raised in the report is the amount of ageing Australians vs the amount of people in the work force to pay for their pensions and increased health bills due to longer life expectancy. Participation refers to the number of people in the workforce between the ages of 15-64. Productivity refers to our ability to work more efficiently or produce better quality goods and services with the same level of resources.

The report shows how each of these factors play into what the future will be like in 2055. By then the population is estimated to be at 37.9 million, with 2 million Australians aged 85 or over, we currently have only 80,000 in that demographic bracket. The report predicts that in 2055 the participation rates for people over 15 will fall slightly, however the rate of people aged over 65 in the workforce will increase to 17.3%. This, according to the IGR will give us the opportunity to learn from the wisdom and experience of the older generation. Couple of issues here, one we’ve got to want to learn and two, the older generation has to want to teach. I see plenty of reluctance on both ends of the scale.

According to an article in the Conversation, http://goo.gl/rsrHMD whilst focusing on the contribution of the older generation, the report lacks a focus on the younger, which is where the future of work is really headed. It states that unemployment of young people with tertiary qualifications is up, whilst those without yr 12 are doing slightly better comparatively. Authors, Churchill and Denny conclude that this suggests education – workforce transition is more complex than originally thought. According to Brotherhood St Laurence CEO Tony Nicholson, youth unemployment is a key intergenerational issue and needs to be addressed in order to secure future economic prosperity.

However is future economic prosperity the benchmark or sign of a healthy nation? Or could it be the by-product or outworking of a set of values that we adopt and live by as a nation. A set of values that inform policy at all levels of government, helps structure business, provides a guideline for media reporting, sets an agenda for social services, incorporates the highest good of religion and promotes human flourishing?

Can you imagine an Australia with a values statement? A statement that incorporates the best of who we are. Not a statement that is then enshrined in law, but something that’s aspirational, that gives freedom for people to grow and flex. A statement that is open to interpretation but is geared towards the common good.

Richard Eckersley an Australian sociologist and researcher into youth issues believes that young people are the canary in the mine shaft for a nation. For those not familiar with the metaphor, in Britain in the early days of coal mining the miners would send a canary into the shaft. If it survived they believed there was enough oxygen in the shaft for the miners to survive. Similar if young people are able to thrive and flourish in a nation it is doing ok. Eckersley sees that reports like the IGR and for the most part the wellbeing indicators look at the economic health of the country, whilst there are concerning aspects, for the most part that comes out ok. But if you look at indicators like youth suicide, young people’s sense of the future, their sense of wellbeing, the lack of relationship with significant adults, connection to meaning and purpose, then there is room for concern.

One thing the IGR does is help to lift the political gaze beyond the news cycle and even the next election, but does it help politicians focus on what’s really important for our nation? If we look at young people as part of those who are vulnerable in our communities then we can include them in the ancient adage that says a test of a nation is how it cares for the orphan, the widow and the stranger. How would we go on that scorecard?

Could we establish a set of values that guides us as a nation to create a truly great place for generations to come to call home? If we can then there is work for all of us to do. Are you prepared to dream a little, move outside the box of the expected economic norms and begin to live as if there is another way. Australia was seen as the place of the fair go for the battler, could we recapture that for today’s battler, today’s vulnerable and include them in the conversation towards creating an even better community.

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