Monday, 26 October 2015

Generation X: The force awakens

Life before fake tan, people. 

There's no point to any of this. It's all just a random lottery of meaningless tragedy and a series of near escapes. So I take pleasure in the details. You know... a Quarter-Pounder with cheese, those are good, the sky about ten minutes before it starts to rain, the moment where your laughter become a cackle... and I sit back and I smoke my Camel Straights and I ride my own melt. – Reality Bites

Lately it feels as though Generation X is experiencing something of a moment. For so long, we’ve been the middle child, sandwiched uncomfortably between the overly smug and entitled Baby Boomers, and the nauseating, unbridled optimism and ‘can do’ attitude of the Millennials. Gen Xers have endured recessions, fingers hovering in the ‘80s over nuclear warfare buttons, the Grim Reaper casting a shadow over our sex lives, housing prices at nosebleed levels and a Boomer generation that refused to vacate the corner office with dignity and a pension so we could move in.

Even when we finally did find ourselves standing at that retirement morning tea for them, the GFC hit, and the Boomer’s superannuation stocks plummeted. Our golf claps around the Coles-bought cheesecake slowly stopped at the realisation that, after all this time, they still wanted more. “Well, maybe I’ll just stay on a few more years so I can invest in that third property,” they smiled, eyes glinting at our despair.

But now. Wow! Not only is Marty McFly back in vogue, helping us understand how deluded we were about the engineering capabilities of our generation to get self-lacing shoes sorted via Nike, there’s a whole raft of Gen X gold appearing in our pans. Star Wars – the real one – is making a comeback, not that namby-pamby palava of three prequels that’s best summed up in two words: Hayden Christensen.

With the new instalment, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, we’re back with Chewy and Hans Solo and even Carrie Fisher as the real Princess Leia, who had that awesome iconic hairdo and launched a million tween boy fantasies when she was held prisoner in a bikini chained to Jabba the Hut. Makes Fifty Shades of Grey look decidedly unimaginative doesn’t it?  

Australia’s BFF Canada has just elected their first Gen X Prime Minister, 43-year-old Justin Trudeau, whose previous resume included ‘snowboard instructor’ and ‘nightclub bouncer’. He’s progressive, from a broken home and damn fine looking – all quintessential Gen X traits. And unlike his Boomer counterparts, he actually wants to preserve the climate for his kids, cos y’know, even though he might not be here to benefit, it’s still the right thing to do, yeah?

Closer to home, we’ve got Malcolm Turnbull at the helm. Sure, he’s a Boomer, but we like to think of him as an honorary Gen Xer. He’s putting loads of us in his Cabinet and shares some intrinsic Gen X behavioural qualities, like a penchant for shiny new gadgets, a good wardrobe and a desire to release the trap door on a number of entitled, dead-wood Boomers who thought they could see out their days on the gravy train of entitlement.  He’s also got some parental abandonment issues (very Gen X), is cynical about authority, and is highly entrepreneurial and adaptable. That latter trait is one which all of us have had to embody, due to the Boomers sucking everything up in their wake – reasonable house prices, free education and music concert tickets that you didn’t have to take out a second mortgage to buy.

So let’s hope this lifelong winter of our discontent is finally over now that we’re approaching middle age. Our world may not look exactly like the one that the DeLorean transported Marty McFly to in October 2015, but it’s feeling damn good all the same.

Diana Elliott.

Saturday, 3 October 2015

When disruption hits politics

In Malcolm we trust. 
This week, Tony Abbott emerged from the surf to chat to his good buddy Ray Hadley about the events that led to his demise as Prime Minister.  Fair enough. The man should be allowed to lick his wounds. Despite the gasps, it was a relatively benign interview – Abbott clearly had learnt to ‘button it’ after that throwaway and nonsensical line about Scott Morrison last week.

But what’s fascinating is that Tony Abbott still doesn’t get it, nor do those who love quoting the ‘four PMs in five years’ phenomenon. It’s not polls or the media spinning that revolving door. It’s incompetence. Tony Abbott will be remembered as the best Opposition leader we’ve ever had. He was fierce. He took the other side. He opposed things – something he once said was an Opposition leader’s duty. It’s one of the reasons why he snatched the leadership from Malcolm Turnbull in 2009. Turnbull is a barrister by trade – used to knowing which battles to pick, and which to compromise. He wanted to support Rudd’s Emissions Trading Scheme. Many in his party didn’t. He fell on his sword being principled about it and lost by one vote.  Abbott was handed the leadership on the basis of opposing something, and it’s been his modus operandi since. Oppose the carbon tax. End the mining tax. Stop the boats. Every policy framed in the negative.

In the run up to the 2010 election, someone in Abbott’s camp sensed that this devastatingly effective stance in Opposition needed to be refined for the position of leadership. Cue the blue ties – indicating loyalty, stability, and an air of conservative refinement. Sleeves that had been rolled up were cuffed and clamped down. And the language and tone of Opposition – fervent, attacking, and scaling up and down the octaves - became muted and slow.  

Abbott, like the insecure bride who hands the prettiest bridesmaid the ugliest dress to wear, didn’t ever let Turnbull shine. He handed him the Communications portfolio – hardly a marquee slot, forcing the man he credited with ‘inventing the internet’ to reverse all those trucks delivering the rolled gold NBN. Turnbull’s critics love to point out that even the pared-back NBN solution is over-budget. But c’mon, have you ever known of an IT project that isn’t?

Abbott, in latent and overt ways, is a man frozen in time. In smoothing out the traits that made him powerful in Opposition, he became a wax-like imitation of a leader – more comfortable dealing in one-syllable, three word slogans than drawing on his privileged education to articulate an expansive vision. The world was divided into villains and heroes. Baddies and goodies. The grey rinsed out of his hair – symbolic of a man who refuses to acknowledge time’s passing.

In contrast, Malcolm Turnbull embodies much of what the new century demands in a leader. Someone who can engage in a conversation, not merely recite key messages ad nauseum, hoping the minutes tick down on a hostile interview before you make a gaff. Compare Turnbull's first interview as PM on ABC's 7.30 with Leigh Sales with Tony Abbott's last, which by any measure, was a disgrace of 'Death Cult' proportions. 

He’s relaxed. Optimistic. Aware of the upside, not just the downside of risk. Disruption is coming. We need a leader at the helm who isn’t frightened of what he sees on the horizon. Someone who can keep a cool head out on the deck, and sail with the winds of change, not a captain that dives underneath, battens down the hatches and waits for it to pass.

Abbott’s lack of insight into his own failings will hopefully recede with time. It’s like watching taxi drivers on the steps of Parliament bleating about the rise of Uber. Or hotel owners wanting to shut down AirBnB. Or Abbott’s continual claim that the changing climate wasn’t going to get in the way of managing the economy, even as every major company in the land is incorporating the impact of climate change into their business plans.

While Abbott blames the media and hypersensitivity to polls as the reasons for his ousting, it was his own inability to remove the straightjacket that he’d been stitched into that did it. Lacking ability to seize opportunities in the new economy. Clutching coal when Blind Freddy could see the world was moving – if not us – to cleaner forms of energy. An obsession with building roads when overburdened cities are crying out for more public transport. Abbott was a man intent on staying still, in spite of the whirling winds of change around him. It was unsustainable.

Politics is about public service, but to be an effective leader of the country, you need more. Abbott, larger than life in Opposition, was like a greyhound at the end of a race once he won the Prime Ministership. The lure was on longer in sight – giving him something, anything to chase – and he flailed. That’s what lost him the leadership. 

Diana Elliott.