Current Issue #488

Third Age: A Belated Spring of Discontent

Third Age: A Belated Spring of Discontent

The night was dark and stormy. And then the lights went out and the TV, radio and internet went down… and we began to worry. About family, neighbours and friends. Would they get home okay, were they in trouble, did they have torches, candles (where were the animals?), would the roof stay on? What about that expensive stuff in the freezer? What about that sick neighbour who might need an ambulance tonight?

You know what it was like. The Great Darkness. People without immediate concerns dragged out the board games and pretended it was fun, because children had to be reassured. But it wasn’t fun. It was cold inside and out. How long, oh Lord, how long?

Then the lights came on and what did we see, immediately? We saw politicians girding up for a fight. It was inter-party, intra-party, and absolute bloody nonsense because hardly anyone knew what they were talking about. But they were determined to score off each other, spitting the words renewables and coal. Bah, humbug.

Families sorted themselves out, ringing grandma, ringing each other, if they could. Did useful things. But in the heads of our political leaders the lights were on and nobody was at home. Idiots.

Observing this with horror, I joined the blame game myself for a bit to observe that conservatives cannot handle change, and they are not much good at crises either. Speeches delivered with widespread, come-to-Jesus arms, don’t cut it.

A blackout of a whole state is embarrassing, but not as cringe-making as the blame game and lack of leadership afterwards. I am ashamed of those to whom we have given power (of all kinds) over our lives and future.

And that was before the Senate Committee examining the feud between the highest law officer in the land, the Attorney-General, George Brandis, and the Solicitor-General, Justin Gleeson, which descended into a hideous stoush between the principals and those questioning them. Passive aggression, rudeness, calculated insults, general incivility and lack of control. A chair who was routinely talked over. Everything seemed set up to ensure that heat and no light would surface. Barbaric stuff.

Major parliamentary reforms are needed to stop the crude brawling of our leaders in committees and elsewhere.My modest proposal is that all speakers at all times in both Houses should speak on their feet without notes. It would give them something to think about apart from jibes and insults. But that’s only in the parliaments. Civility and reason should become election issues otherwise, among other things, how can we continue to feel so smug about Donald Trump? Writing of that disaster, Timothy Egan in the New York Times said, “Civility, always a tenuous thing, cannot be quickly restored in a society that has learned to hate in public, at full throttle.”

In a month that included publication in a daily newspaper of an opinion piece by a 17- year-old P-plater claiming old people should not be allowed to drive (he’s the darling of the right wing pundits, so he shouldn’t worry about my getting in his way), and more stupid stuff about the tsunami of old people about to ruin life for everyone, I read an excellent piece, Time’s Up for Ageing Alarmists by the Professor of Economics at the University of Queensland. Professor John Quiggan says mistaken fears about an ageing population have stopped us from considering how best to respond to longer, healthier lives.

He says it’s wrong to assume that people at any given age in the future will have much the same characteristics and live in much the same way as they do at present. That mistaken assumption goes right back to the beginning of literature about ageing. Changes in healthcare, in work and in technology are among the reasons for this being wrong.

Just one of the ways it will be available to society to benefit from longevity would be by sharing the workload. “We could reduce the intense workload experienced during the peak years of work and family responsibility (roughly age 25 to 54) while delaying full retirement until 70 or later.”

Explore the options and the benefits, which are many, instead of throwing up our arms in despair, is his message, along with practical suggestions. It’s worth chasing this piece up. I found it in Inside Story, an online digest delivered by email or at

Not only are lives getting longer; novels are, too. The Oldie magazine says a survey shows that the average number of pages has grown by 25 per cent over the past 15 years. It seems excessive. I had noticed those fat crime books always on prominent display in my bookshop and wondered if bigger type were being used for their gruesome tales of crime and mortuary dissections.

Doorstoppers are not for old people with rickety necks. So, like The Oldie, I thought with gratitude ofone of my favourite novelists – a master of the concise -Ian McEwan. But fat crime books don’t fully explain the average size increase. I suspect one factor is the demise of the sub-editor. As Ian McEwan himself says, “Very few really long novels earn their length.”

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