Peter Smith

Age hatred

I once went on a demonstration. It was in 1969 in Perth. I was a student at UWA, misguided and slightly Left. John Gorton was Prime Minister. It was an anti-Vietnam War demonstration. I am ashamed now about attending this demonstration but it was a salutary experience. Because my fervour was not up to standard I began to feel afraid that the mob would turn on me. Peaceful they were not.

I was also a bystander among a crowd on another occasion when Jolly John visited the university. I was standing next to a girl who shared the same house with me and some fellow students. She was a nice quiet girl; or so I thought. As Gorton passed us in the convivial way he had about him, her face contorted and this most awful rage spewed and screamed out of her mouth. He turned abruptly away. He had seen and heard it before no doubt but he was clearly not immune. I escaped as quickly as I could. I never quite looked at her in the same way again.

I thought of instigating my own demonstration in 1996 when John Howard and Peter Costello were busy trying to figure out how much money they could extract out of people in the run up to their retirement through a superannuation surcharge levy. They didn’t call it a tax because they had promised before the March election not to increase taxes. Tricky! In the end I paid up (gaol being the alternative) and grumbled privately about them being public conservatives but private socialists. Nothing they did afterwards really changed my mind about that. I continued grudgingly to support them because they were less Left than the alternative not because they represented conservative economic values.

This brings me to the demonstrations organised against the carbon (dioxide) tax. I thought of attending. Then I remembered my only previous experience and realised I could not control who would be there. Rednecks attach themselves, like the leeches they are, to conservative movements. The Tea Party movement in the United States has that to deal with. It was only afterwards, courtesy of Quadrant Online and The Tizona Group, when reading some Tweets, that I realised that there was something worse than being associated with rednecks – old people. As an older person (notice I didn’t use the pejorative word old), I hadn’t noticed. Pauline Hanson, the Australian League of Rights and some crude placards, I thought might not do the cause any good. Age had not entered my head.

Leaving aside the admirable and inspiring USA Tea Party movement, conservatives tend to be, well, how to put it, conservative. Few turn up at rallies, and very few younger people. They don’t have nearly as many, if any at all, professional agitators, unemployed disaffected younger people, and layabout radical students, in their midst with nothing better to do than demonstrate. If younger, they are mainly employed or strenuously looking for work, or studying hard. As a result, they fall back onto a few old fogies (there I go with the slurs) to do the hard yards of rallying; who then clearly suffer the inevitable ridicule that follows.

Sarkozy withdrew a proposal to introduce a carbon tax in France about a year ago following demonstrations. But then the French know how to demonstrate. It is particularly instructive too that the carbon tax was incidental. Mostly the demonstrators were the usual left-wing crowd demonstrating against cuts to pensions and the like. However, they probably had more sense than our union bosses seem to have in understanding that taxing French industry ahead of the world is not calculated to create jobs. Why they are falling in behind the Brown-Gillard idiocy is one of those mysteries historians will need to unravel.

Probably demonstrations should be left to the Left. They do it better in one sense but in another they harm their cause. After all, what is the objective of demonstrations – leaving aside the Middle East? Presumably it is to persuade the great middle ground. Experience tells you that shouting and aggression puts people off. Conservatives should perhaps play to their intellectual strengths. Gentler pursuits, than shouting slogans and carrying placards, are more fitting for those with intelligence and the wisdom of age on their side.

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