Madonna King: That old chestnut of why Australia will likely never see an elderly Prime Minister
Donald Trump, at 74, headlined five events in four states on the last day of his bid for a second term as US President.
And then he did a press conference as the clock ticked on to 3am.
Joe Biden, at 77, was only a touch less energetic and that’s unlikely to result from the three-year age difference.
Isn’t it preposterous believing someone will end this term in the White House after their 80th birthday?
Or do Americans just value age more than Australians?
“It’s ridiculous,’’ my dry cleaner says.
“How can they do that job in their 70s?’’
“That’s right,’’ says a customer waiting in line. “No one should be working then.’’
I move to the local grocery store.
“I can’t imagine my father running for prime minister in his 70s,’’ a mum of three says. “I can’t imagine that ever happening in Australia,’’ another says.
Despite all the talk about the need to value wisdom, the importance of experience, and about the need to remain active longer, we readily dismiss those with a few grey hairs as having reached their use-by date.
Will Australia ever see an older Prime Minister again? Graphic: TND
Just ask any 55-year-old now looking for a job, after COVID put a red line through their retirement plans.
“They thought I was too experienced,’’ says one international marketer after not even making the interview round.
Too experienced? That used to be an asset.
For a time our politicians were also on board to try and change the narrative about older workers; mainly so they could delay retirement age.
It was just a fleeting thought bubble, and when you compare the age of Australian leaders – to the likes of Mr Trump and Mr Biden – the difference is telling.
Scott Morrison is 52. Gladys Berejiklian celebrated her 50th a few weeks ago. Annastacia Palaszczuk celebrated the feat last year. And the new Queensland opposition leader David Crisafulli is only 41.
Daniel Andrews has to wait another two years before he can join the 5-0 club. Indeed, his mother Jan, who recently endeared many of us to her by calling radio talkback and suggesting her son was looking tired on some days, is only 77 – the same age as Joe Biden.
So where’s the imperative to have the national conversation on the value of those aged over 60 in Australia?
And can it happen before those who represent us are celebrating their 65th and 70th and even 75th birthday in Canberra’s Parliament House?
Elderly Australians are struggling to find work in the pandemic. Photo: AAP
By 2050, one-quarter of Australians will be aged 65 years and over.
And thanks to medical breakthroughs, the number of Australians living beyond 85 years will rise to about 1.8 million by 2050.
We don’t have to wait until then though to judge their contribution. Those termed ‘the elderly’ – or over 65 years – already contribute $39 billion each year in unpaid work, such as caring and voluntary roles.
In addition to that, consider the Senior Australians of the Year recognised annually.
They are all aged 60 or over and are made up of active working medical specialists and scientists, children’s advocates and Indigenous community leaders, academics and finance entrepreneurs, philanthropists and performing artists.
Why is their value less at 60 than it was at 50?
The New Daily reported last month that at the start of this pandemic, about 100,000 people aged 55 and over lost their jobs.
The likelihood of older Australians finding further employment in a marketplace flooded with jobless will only fuel the view that our use-by date is well before it should be.
It’s not just America where those with more candles enjoy big jobs.
Angela Merkel is 66. The Prime Minister of Japan is 72. And yes, there are exceptions with 56-year-old leaders in Italy and the UK and a boyish Justin Trudeau, in Canada, who will turn 49 on Christmas Day.
But age is more of a dirty word here than most other places.
Just listen to teenagers now, muttering ‘boomer’ under their breath. It’s rarely done as a compliment.
It’s time that changed.
Being 60 or 70 or even 75 doesn’t make you a good leader. But it shouldn’t rule you out, either.