KATE EMERY: Jim Chalmers’ baby boom is a tough ask

Kate Emery
The Nightly
4 Min Read
Jim Chalmers wants to see the country’s birth rate rise above its decidedly prudish 1.63 births per woman.
Jim Chalmers wants to see the country’s birth rate rise above its decidedly prudish 1.63 births per woman. Credit: The Nightly

Jim Chalmers wants me to have a baby.

It’s nothing personal: he wants you to have one too.

Chalmers, a man so in touch with cost-of-living pressures that his family tooth fairy hands out $20 apiece, wants to see the country’s birth rate rise above its decidedly prudish 1.63 births per woman.

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Since the only thing that’s been keeping the nation’s legs closed thus far is the absence of a wink and a smile from Jim, HR departments across the country should brace for the flood of maternity leave paperwork, IKEA can stock-up for a run on the antilop highchair and baristas nationwide better get their babycino game up to snuff.

Or, perhaps, our country’s Treasurer might consider his own role in bringing about the desired baby boom (steady on, Mrs Chalmers, that’s not what I meant).

“It would be better if birth rates were higher,” Chalmers said in an interview ahead of Tuesday’s Federal Budget. “I think people are leaving it later and sometimes that means you get timed out. But there are a whole range of reasons people’s preferences are changing. It’s expensive to raise kids.”

Acknowledging the reverse ATM that is a newborn is a great start. First comes the nappies. Then comes the daycare. Woe betide the parent who lets their child develop a taste for fresh raspberries for they will never know wealth.

Chalmers has already suggested tomorrow’s Budget will be mum-friendly, with paid parental leave to attract superannuation from 2025 and a wage boost for the childcare sector.

But there’s plenty more the Government could do to deliver a political Viagra to both Australia’s flaccid birth rate and to the one-third of generation Z — anyone aged between about 14 and their late twenties right now — who say they don’t ever want to have kids.

Top of the list is bigger and faster action on climate change. We’ve just come off the world’s hottest-ever year, a dry spell that was, for some parts of the country, its worst in 100 years and climate scientists are warning the world that a 2.5C increase to global temperatures by 2100 is increasingly likely. Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga, George Miller’s film about a post-apocalyptic wasteland in which competition for water has driven the world to madness isn’t even out yet and it’s starting to look like a documentary from the not-too-distant future.

And yet our Government is too busy backflipping on new fuel efficiency standards, in the face of pressure from the car industry, and approving new coal mines to worry that the world’s not on track to cap temperature increases at 1.5C by 2030, which is what the Paris Agreement was supposed to achieve.

There’s a reason young people are most scared about climate change and it’s not because age brings wisdom: it’s because they’re the poor buggers who have to live in the world their parents and grandparents leave behind.

Tackling housing affordability is better than a platter full of oysters if the aim is to get would-be parents in the mood. That’s not just because couples are more likely to add a kid to their household if they have a house — or the prospect of owning one — but because the DINK couple struggling to get out of a mould-infested rental can see the future and that future is their kid still bunking in with the mould at age 40.

This isn’t about young people today wanting a 4x2 with a butler’s pantry. Housing affordability is as bad as it’s ever been: you don’t need to look past Anglicare Australia’s latest report, which found just three rental properties in the country that were affordable to someone on a JobSeeker allowance, to see it.

There’s more, so much more: better resourcing for the mental health crisis plaguing kids, finding a way to stop men murdering women in such numbers and more investment in aged care infrastructure to support future sandwich generations.

Chalmers is not the only politician trying to dim the lights and cue the Barry Manilow. Around the world, western leaders are fretting about declining birth rates.

There is no single solution but there is a common thread: listen to what is keeping young Australians up at night. Come up with policies that address those concerns, give young people good reasons to be positive about the future and maybe, just maybe, they’ll find something better to do with their nights than fret.

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