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What is it with Gen X?

By Sandra Kanck - posted Friday, 22 October 2010

In the 1960s and early '70s, baby-boomer university students marched in the streets to get Australia out of Vietnam. In the '80s, the university students of Generation X marched in the streets to protest the removal of their free bus fares.

Spot the difference?

For the past forty years baby boomers have paid significant amounts of taxation that went, in part, to ensure that any of their Gen X children who wanted to go to university could. Those same children now complain that they do not want to be taxed to support ageing parents.


Spot the difference?

Civil society fought in the '60s to assert itself in relation to governments and businesses. Through the protest movement, government decisions - such as Australia’s involvement in the Vietnam War - were reversed or altered in response to public pressure. Freedom of information was guaranteed, parts of the natural environment were saved, better urban planning was forced, inequalities were addressed and overall accountability was increased.

But this is falling apart, organisations which fought those battles are closing down, and that power which was exercised then is slowly being resumed by governments and business. Why?

Now formally retired, as a volunteer I hold positions on the executive or planning bodies of four different organisations, I am a spokesperson for two, and a patron of another four. Yet, despite knowledge of at least some of my activity (or perhaps because of it), representatives from three other organisations of which I hold membership have asked me to nominate for executive positions this year. Given my age, one might expect a younger person would have been approached.

But despite awareness of their desperation - and sympathy for it - I turned down the requests because of my already heavy load. That is a common refrain of community activists. Before the end of the year I anticipate there will be more requests. So what is going on?

All these groups have two things in common:

  • the preponderance of baby-boomers and some of the generation that preceded them, and
  • dearth of those belonging to Generation X.

While many baby-boomers remain in their organisations and community groups out of loyalty, an increasing number does not have the energy or time to continue in leadership roles. Apart from simply growing old, more and more of them are taking on caring roles, either for their parents or their grandchildren, and they are wanting out.

It is not uncommon to find 80 year olds looking to hand on the baton to someone younger. The only problem is Generation X (the definition of which varies, but which I am accepting as being those born between 1965 and 1984) has failed to enter the race. There is no-one to accept the baton.

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About the Author

Sandra Kanck is the former parliamentary leader of the South Australian Democrats. She is national president of Sustainable Population Australia, SA president of Friends of the ABC, President of the Australian Democrats (SA Division Inc.) and an Executive Member of the SA Council for Civil Liberties.

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