Last week, Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg called on over 65s to work longer.
He talked about increased life expectancy, a shrinking number of working-age Australians, and the national debt.
The underlying issue though – that we have an ageing population – seemed to receive less analysis, much less proposed solutions.
This is not some intellectual issue. The consequences will affect us all.
Let’s face it, the taxpayer base is not keeping up with those it’s supporting, the pension eligibility age is already rising, and people are working longer.
Younger generations face the prospect of further increases to the retirement age – if some of them will be able to retire at all.
This, in turn, is leading to an unhealthy resentment between generations. Witness the recent emergence of the phrase “OK, Boomer”, used by younger people to dismiss their elders online.
It’s a minor example, but one that plays into the Cultural Marxist of narrative of a “generation gap”, pitting young against old.
The dilemma we’re now confronted with was avoidable. Likewise, it won’t be solved through quick fixes like forcing over 65s to work – or seeking the extinction of the dwindling class of full-time mothers.
The solution is longer-term: we need to increase Australia’s fertility rate.
Put simply, people aren’t having enough children. As a country, we’re not even replacing ourselves. Mr Frydenberg’s predecessor Peter Costello understood this when he famously quipped that parents should have one child for the mother, one for the father, and one for the country.
In 2017, a total of 309,142 births were registered in Australia. That equals a fertility rate of 1.74 babies per woman, the lowest since 2001.
To put this in perspective, mere replacement level is 2.1 – a level Australia hasn’t seen since 1976, although we got remarkably close at the end of the Howard Era. Perhaps people took Mr Costello’s advice to heart for a while!
There are significant barriers to increasing the fertility rate. Abortion is obviously a huge issue – as is economics.
The dominance of the dual-income household (coupled with the ever-increasing cost of housing) is causing couples to push back ideas like marriage (if they marry at all) and family formation. Delayed motherhood leads, in turn, to a smaller window in which to have children.
Overcoming these obstacles will be a challenge, especially in an era where the pessimistic creed of Malthusianism (i.e. “we’re all going to eat ourselves out of house and home”) has found a new lease of life within the environmental movement.
As a father of six, I’m used to negative reactions from ageing “progressives” for selfishly daring to have more than two children (ranging from raised eyebrows to outright scolding).
The irony is obviously wasted on them that my children – apparently causing severe strain to the planet – are the very people these entitled “progressives” will rely on and expect to pay for their aged pension and Medicare.
Sadly, their gloomy attitude is infecting younger people, with some even choosing to go childless in a vain attempt to save the planet.
Overcoming this sad philosophy – that humans are an affliction – is just as important as any social or economic policy we might propose.
I’m reminded of the famous words of Mother Teresa: “How can there be too many children? That is like saying there are too many flowers.”
A message from Hungary
We’re certainly not alone in facing demographic challenges.
As you might know, the Hungarian Government (under Prime Minister Vikor Orbán) is acutely aware that demographics matter – and it’s taking real action.
I was fortunate to meet with Hungary’s Minister for Family, Katalin Novák, a few months ago.
Here’s what she wanted to share with Australian Family Coalition supporters:
In Australia the situation is a little bit like in Hungary.
In general – and that’s also the pattern in Australia – young Australians want to have more children than they will have in the end [i.e. they don’t end up having as many children as they wanted]. And I’m sure they also face burdens; they also have difficulties.
So, I think that the best thing a state can do is try to help them overcome these difficulties – try to help them to break down these burdens – and that’s what we do in Hungary.
First of all, we have a family friendly tax policy. That means that, the more children you have, the less personal income tax you pay. From the 1st of January next year , for example, those women who have at least four children, and who raise or raised four children, they will have an exemption from personal income tax. So, they won’t have to pay any personal income tax ever in their lives.
We also give financial subsidies to young couples who are about to buy or build a new house or flat, and also those who are just starting their coming lives as a married couple – they can also get this kind of financial subsidy.
But money is not everything. You have to give financial support, for sure, but also you have to have family friendly services. You have to have this family-friendly mentality present in each and every field of your life.
I think you have to have services that help, for example, women to try to reach this work-life balance, which is very difficult to reach.
And also, as a government, I think we can underline in every field of life the value of family life – because without strong families we won’t ever have strong nations.
We won’t have a strong Europe – and you won’t have a strong Australia – without strong families.
I couldn’t agree with her more. We have a vested interest in supporting families.
"Strong families = a strong Australia."