Australia’s “whipping boy” youth


Cross-posted from The Conversation.

In the English court during the 15th and 16th centuries boys were engaged to cop the punishments of young princes. These young people were referred to as “whipping boys”. When the young crown prince misbehaved, the whipping boy was beaten and made to suffer.

Such practice seems fanciful now. However, the idea that privileged members of the community can transfer chastisement onto others less fortunate appears to have endured. This is the impression left by the Commission of Audit report, which endorses the government line that Australians have been “living beyond their means”.

But who will suffer the tough budget medicine? In particular, young Australians in need will be hit hard if the Abbott government adopts many of the recommendations of its Commission of Audit. Many young Australians are struggling. Let’s face it, many young people are already doing it tough.

The fact that the Australian Human Rights Commission’s National Children’s Commissioner recently launched an inquiry into intentional self-harm and suicidal behaviour among young people demonstrates just that. Youth unemployment is also a worrying problem, so much so that Tony Nicholson, executive director of the Brotherhood of St Laurence, recently described unemployment among young people as an “epidemic”.

I am not suggesting a direct link between youth suicide and unemployment. What I am emphasising is that young people who are struggling hardly need further whacks as proposed in the Commission of Audit’s report.

How the Commission of Audit hits young people

Many of the Commission of Audit’s measures would have direct negative impacts on the lives of disadvantaged young people. Here are some examples.

First, restricting young people’s access to unemployment benefits (Recommendation 27) now appears likely to be adopted in some form in next week’s budget. The proposed expansion to mutual obligation rules is a well-rehearsed response to rising levels of youth unemployment.

Once again, this approach is likely to do nothing to help long-term unemployed young people find work in the current tight youth labour market. Instead, it runs the risk of further economically disadvantaging and socially isolating a group of already vulnerable young people. The Commission of Audit’s recommendation and the government’s leaked pre-budget changes fly in the face of overwhelming recognition that their unemployment allowances are at present grossly inadequate and inhibit young people from getting a job.

Second, drastic cuts to the minimum wage (Recommendation 28) would certainly have the detrimental effect of plunging more young Australians further into poverty.

Third, requiring university students to pay more and pay back their HELP debt sooner (Recommendation 30) ignores the high rates of deprivation and financial stress among students. This proposal also does nothing to encourage young people from lower socio-economic status communities to pursue a higher education. If educational attainment is a key way to overcome inequality and social exclusion, which many neoliberal thinkers want us to believe, then it is difficult to understand why the Commission of Audit wants to introduce such disincentives.

Withdrawal of supports on the cards

The Commission of Audit’s report has taken shape at the same time as Commonwealth programs for supporting vulnerable young people face funding uncertainty. These include:Youth ConnectionsPartnership Brokers, and the Australian Youth Affairs Coalition.

In light of the potential cuts to such initiatives it hardly seems fair to threaten young people with additional blows, as delivered by the Commission of Audit. These impending changes for the worse come on top of the defunding of Youth Studies Australia. This was the country’s only research journal dedicated to young people and the youth sector.

These cuts are coupled with state-sponsored services for vulnerable young people losing funding in: VictoriaQueensland and the Northern Territory.

As a country we need to seriously ask ourselves whether now is the time to further withdraw support for young people, particularly those who are working class, in ways proposed by the Commission of Audit. Recent dramatic changes to the youth labour market, high rates of poverty and social exclusion among young people, and concerns about young Australians’ mental health and well-being clearly suggest that it is not.

Making young people victims of prejudice

Unfortunately, Australian governments have a history of shifting the burden of responsibility onto young people facing struggles that are the result of changing labour markets and tough economic conditions.

Australia is not alone in treating young people as the fall guy. Ed Howker and Shiv Malik, authors of Jilted Generation: How Britain has bankrupted its youth, argued young people were unfairly blamed for and burdened with the social and economic problems facing the UK. Similarly Mike Males, author of The Scapegoat Generation: America’s war on adolescents, described how young Americans have been unduly held responsible for many of that country’s woes.

The Commission of Audit “naturally” reproduces such failures towards young people. Such widespread contemptuous treatment aligns with common deep-seated prejudices about the younger members of our community as “lazy”, “reckless”, “selfish”, “undeserving”, “no good”, “trouble”. Is this how we want to treat young people?

Thanks to the Commission of Audit’s report many of our fellow young Australians face the prospect of being put through the wringer. Implementing the Commission of Audit’s recommendations will be a slap in the face to young people who are doing it tough as the result of events such as the global financial crisis that were not of their making.

In other words, grim times are on the cards for those least able to grin and bear it. For once and for all, let’s not use young people who are less fortunate as whipping boys.

Michael Emslie is Lecturer in Youth Work at RMIT University.

David Llewellyn-Smith


  1. Researchtime

    Ridiculous article. Where I grew up youth unemployment was at least 70-80%. Welcome to the late 1980’s, early 1990’s in rural Tasmania.

    Get a grip.

      • I am genuinely surprised that you do not like this article.

        It may be a bit colourful, but I expected you’d broadly agree with its underlying premise. The whole point of the whipping boy story is not that they were whipped per se, but that they were made to pay for another person’s transgressions.

        As a general rule, fairness requires that people should reap what they themselves sow.

        Clearly those who are born pre-1965 have far greater responsibility for the current state of the budget (for better or worse) than those who are still children now. It makes no sense to say that the state of the budget requires changes, yet quarantine the former from the changes needed to fix the budgetary situation and instead visit such changes on the latter.

        The COA is basically proposing a weird sort of age-based redistributive socialism.

        There’s this wonderful author I think you’d like, called Karl Marx…

    • dumb_non_economist

      Ridiculous article; ridiculous comment!

      So youth UE was 70-80% in rural Tassie, who would have known the inbreds couldn’t get work? Seriously, because that was so in Tassie means it’s ok until it gets to that level elsewhere?

      These measures are going to do what to improve the lot of young people, or is it just going to punish them for our spending habits?

      Get your hand off it!

    • Right. I had to get up in the morning at ten o’clock at night, half an hour before I went to bed, drink a cup of sulphuric acid, work twenty-nine hours a day down mill, and pay mill owner for permission to come to work, and when we got home, our Dad and our mother would kill us, and dance about on our graves singing ‘Hallelujah.’

  2. migtronixMEMBER

    Are they questioning Abbotts noblesse obligee? I’m shocked.

    Don’t they know he feels the pain twice as much as the whipping boy?

  3. Awww!! My comment was marked as spam .. Probably too may percent symbols and a youtube link! 😛

  4. F*#k’em – Below 30, single, male – making good coin?

    Your wallet is the whipping boy for every social enginnering scheme the justice warriors can dream up.

    Go long physical, no debt and let it burn. Learn actual skills which will sustain you – get out of the cubicle farm as soon as you can and enjoy the decline.

    I do not belive any scrap of the welfare state will be around when the post 1980’s born generation needs it, or that the debts of the welfare state will every be paid, irrespective of sell side propoganda to the super funds or Joe Hockey’s machinations (only surpassed by the worlds greatest treasurer)

  5. PJ Clearpool

    It is not just about young people of course.

    Let both wings of the LibLab Pact be judged by their deeds – not their rhetoric……….

    For in Australia, both left and right agree on one unarguable fact of life……

    …. “the rich need more money as an incentive and the poor need less money as an incentive”

  6. On the other hand, the youth are disengaged from politics and probably need this kick in the um to get them sufficiently angry to force a change.

    Of course it’s unfair though. And it’s not just people under 30. Anyone under 40 or even older who doesn’t own their own home is screwed as they have and will continue to miss out out on all the tax lurks.

    • Mining BoganMEMBER

      They’re not disengaged. It’s that there’s no outlet to have their voices heard.

      • There’s alternate parties they can vote for. If they all voted for other parties, LibLab might be forced to listen to their concerns. But since they vote LibLab, they choose and deserve the whipping.

        It would probably get more complex of course as their interest are totally opposite to the elderly so they might still lose. However, in this case, they would be sufficiently aware of their whipping and thus might have a change to lash out in anger and force a change.

        Idealistic.. yeah.. unlikely even if they tried? possibly.. but better than the status quo of voting which half of LibLab does the whipping? Definitely!

      • They’re more concerned about their downloading and so vote for wikileaks or the pirate party.

      • Bluebird what a narrow-minded thing to say… It starts with Education and informing children of what history and politics is. Its starts with Politicians who behave like adults and not like kindy children in the playroom. It starts with politics listening to more than just big business and wealthy individuals who pay into the election coffers wanting a return on the other side. You think young people are naive and blind to the corruption and ineptitude of governments today.

        This system is flawed in that you no longer have a choice when you vote (not that you really every did with the 2 party system). If you don’t wish to vote for either of the 2 parties then you vote for a minor member but how do you know which way the preference system goes today. Both sides of politics are so inept and useless, with constant broken promises and in fighting that leads those who are coming into the voting age to wonder just what the hell is going on.

        I don’t vote, I prefer to cope the fine because at the end of the day I should not be forced to vote for someone who doesn’t earn my vote. Irrespective of where that vote may eventually go to, in my mind at least I make a stand, and I am sure that there are many more out there that feel the same.

        The previous election was not based on any great policies, it was based on the bashing of Labour and its deficit and whilst that may be true, the previous Liberal government managed a profit off the back of a massive housing and resource boom which also included the addition of GST. The labour party dealt with a Global Financial Crisis and subsequently dealt with it by trying to sustain the economy. Were the practices correct, probably not. How would the Liberals have handled it had they remained in power? I don’t know the whole story and Im not here to get into it but until the attitudes change towards the next generation of voters, until they (the voters) start to see a concerted effort by BOTH parties to work TOGETHER for the benefit of THIS COUNTRY, then I feel more and more will remain indifferent to the process and ultimately the disconnection may just grow until someone comes into power with an actual plan that doesn’t involve taxing taxing and more taxing of individuals when large corporations find way to escape their obligations to pay their far share and government constantly finds new ways to blow ie $12 billion dollars on new fighter jets and infrastructure and what for?????

      • Cruze – keep it up – spread the word to the disaffected – DON’T VOTE.

        End compulsory voting. Better outcomes. Guaranteed.

      • drsmithyMEMBER

        If you don’t wish to vote for either of the 2 parties then you vote for a minor member but how do you know which way the preference system goes today.

        You number each box ?

        I don’t vote, I prefer to cope the fine because at the end of the day I should not be forced to vote for someone who doesn’t earn my vote.

        You don’t have to vote for anyone.

        You have to go to a polling station and get your name ticked off.

        You may live in an electorate where there are only candidates for Liberal or Labor, but I doubt it.

    • They’re idiots. They won’t do anything except maybe join the rich inner west boomer hippies for a little march.

      These changes aren’t exactly Stalinesque and good sides can be seen to them in a cruel to be kind way.

      Quite frankly I think the minimum wage is a tad high, but should have ideally come down with house prices and rents, but that’s the left’s job, and they’re a bunch of clowns.

      • migtronixMEMBER

        What do you think of the top wages then? Like for RBA govs say. Hmmmm… Not so much Stalinesque as Thatcherite. And look how well that turned out too.

      • Well the idea is to have cheaper wages which is supposed to give us cheaper goods and services, give more incentive to get up to the higher wages and make us more internationally competitive.

        But I guess it’s more important to you to allow them to get to Bali to have a skanky holiday and spit out 2 or 3 kids right GD?

        Cuba is that way ◹

      • I think housing should come down by 50-70%, and minimum wage probably by about 20-30%.

        See, I’m already more left than the lefties.

        Top executive wages? Absurd of course.

        As far as I know the top dogs in Korea get about 250-500k, and obviously they have been kicking arse.

      • migtronixMEMBER

        What cheaper goods and services? Since when is the price of iron ore determined by the minimum wage in Australia? Again I don’t actually believe in accord wage and I remember well when it hurt me when I was young, but you’re focusing deliberately on trolling the young into action. I get it but #crumbs just don’t do it for me.

      • george fripley

        Too high? Really?

        Let’s face it, if you can’t pay your employees a living wage, what you’re actually doing is asking the government (the taxpayer) to subsidise your business through additional welfare payments to your employees so that they can live. Basically, you don’t have a viable business.

      • Should profits come down?

        In 1982, Australian GDP was around $193 billion,

        with wage share of around 61% ($117 bil), vs profit share around 19.5% (($37 bil)

        Now, in 2013 with a $1.525 trillion economy, wage share of 53.5% (($815.9 bil) vs profit share of 26.5% ($404 bil)

        For labour it’s grown 693%, for profits it’s grown 1074%….

        Profit is part of that ‘competitive pricing’, and they’ve nearly doubled the gains of labour on 30 years.

      • I was thinking more of everyday goods and services than iron ore Mig.

        I’ve completely given up on the youth, and everyone else for that matter, but I admit I still like to troll them.

      • Ah Rusty Penny, you should join my new Facebook page “Boomers are Evil”.

        The COA findings so outraged me that I set up the page and even threw in $100 worth of FB advertising at it (along with my equally futile “Reform Australian Housing” FB page – didn’t help much there, RAF is only growing at half the rate that BAE).

        The interesting thing is the demographic…. lots (and I mean lots) of angry young men…. perhaps there is still hope, nothing ever changes without the assistance of angry young men.

        Anyhow, off home now. May amuse myself to see if I can generate a few more memes to build the anger further. A bit like shaking bees in a glass jar, but perhaps one day I’ll be able to let them loose in a room full of boomers…. 🙂

      • dumb_non_economist


        You’re a right DICKHEAD.

        Quote: “But I guess it’s more important to you to allow them to get to Bali to have a skanky holiday and spit out 2 or 3 kids right GD”

        You high n mighty cockhead.

      • Bluebird said: “They’re idiots. They won’t do anything except maybe join the rich inner west boomer hippies for a little march.”

        What is it with your obsession with Sydney’s inner west? You keep mentioning it and fabricating straw men. It’s utterly irrelevant to the topic at hand.

        Is it because they like “brown people” there?

        Hey Mig… do you think we can break its brain again?

      • migtronixMEMBER

        @Lord Dudley nah he’s actually trolling us ha ha ha. I think I know what he means about Paddington to be honest but I just say live and let live

  7. HealthyInvestor

    You guys are looking at this all wrong.

    Look at the cause and effects.

    Yes the government is basically turning the under 30’s into slaves to pay off their debt.

    But what does that mean for the healthy investor?

    It means an aging demographic will have to pay more and more for healthcare. Invest in healthcare and aged care.

    Young people will have to increasing rely on credit cards and small loans to get by. Invest right there.

    They will have to fork out more for university. Another investment opportunity

    They are living at home for longer some well into their 30’s becuase they can’t afford a house. Invest in granny flat and house extension companies.

    So what if we are strangling the youth into slavery. If they don’t like it let them leave there’s always more where they came from.

    Use the budget as an opportunity to recognise the spending power of gen Y is going to be relatively low but they will still need to spend. And they will most likely spend it on overseas travel while the dollar is high and they are in general better educated so chase after things they want and follow their money.

    Buy single room units out from under them close to hip areas with food. Or new housing estates. These always pay back because young people have to move to these areas and you want to cut them of before they get the chance to buy.

    The younger generation will have more money to spend than the baby boomers you just have to know what they have to spend it on and get there before they realise it 🙂

    Sure it’s stacked against them it’s kinda morally wrong but hey, this is Australia dammit not china or North Korea. Money’s there to be made.

    And what’s gen Y gonna do… Ha half of them don’t even vote and the other half vote for independants. Baby boomers and gen x have the majority for at least 20 years which means 20 years of pain for gen y.

    Australia hasn’t had any riots in decades gen Y wouldn’t know how to mobilise and riot if we gave them a how to guide. They are contempt with the Internet and mobile phones. They don’t know how to fight for increased land supply or how not having it is the root of most of their financial problems. Most of their votes can be bought with empty promises about saving the whales or doubling recycling pickup lol. They are a politically retarded generation so we get to abuse their stupidity for decades to come.

  8. I’m not so sure it’s really that bad for today’s Aussie youth. There are two big problems
    – high cost of living
    – insane housing prices

    that may turn int 3 problems if the boomer generation tries to tax it’s way into retirement. If you simply don’t buy a house it becomes just one problem which has a simple fix …insane wages.

    Obviously manufacturing is dead, but there is far more money to be made as part of the whole ponzi finance system then one can ever hope to make through manufacturing. So finance is definitely the preferred career path for today’s young. In the end analysis the old will be saving like mad and investing in more IP’s while the young will be fleecing them with what amount to thinly veiled scams. Sounds like the finance industry status-quo of the last 10 to 20 years.

  9. surflessMEMBER

    Every generation has always turned towards youth as a source of ‘cannon fodder’ and blame. In the period of the Vietnam War (or American War from the Vietnamese side). Menzies threw youth in conscription then into a war, which Menzies invited Australia into. And when the youth decided enough was enough “run the bastards over” was the catch cry. And those who could afford it went to University and missed out on conscription.

  10. Conscription at 16 years of age, to be followed by the full implementation of the Penal Laws. Eureka!