STONE the crows! Here’s one to perplex the human rights industry – age discrimination against a powerful white male.

During the WA election campaign (well prelude to the push-over more like), somebody back grounded against Premier Colin Barnett suggesting there were signs that at 62 he was too old for the job.[i]

It was the definitive definition of desperation and it did no good. For a start, it probably did not impress the 380,000 Sandgropers 60 and over, 18.7 per cent of the state’s population, who don’t think the premier is old at all.[ii]

Whatever, winners are grinners, regardless of how long in the tooth they are.

Still, Mr Barnett probably could complain under the state’s anti-discrimination act which holds the high crime of dissing the old occurs when

… the discriminator discriminates against another person on the ground of age if, on the ground of — (a) the age of the aggrieved person; or (b) a characteristic that appertains generally to persons of the same age as the aggrieved person; or (c) a characteristic that is generally imputed to persons of the same age as the aggrieved person, the discriminator treats the aggrieved person less favourably than in the same circumstances, or in circumstances that are not materially different, the discriminator treats or would treat a person who is not of that age.[iii]  

Which whoever did the white-anting manifestly did by suggesting the premier could not keep the pace up. The Commonwealth anti-discrimination law says the same thing. [iv]

The Premier could also probably have had a go under former Attorney General Nicola Roxon’s first draft catch-all law which said anything is banned unless it is permitted, including discrimination on the grounds of political opinion that is work related – which commenting on an old bloke running for office manifestly is.[v]

Of course, it will never happen. Premier Barnett is demonstrably able to look after himself. Even if he did decide to demonstrate the inanity of social engineering, by coming over all aggrieved, imagine the response from the army of activists and their patrons on the public payroll if a member of his minority group (older caucasian blokes who pay taxes) sued.

Welfare lobbies would assemble state supported squadrons of silks to explain in every court in the country, on the planet and beyond, why he did not merit assistance.

Which he wouldn’t if only because age discrimination will ebb away. Not because of ludicrous legislation directing people what to do, but because reality will render legislation against discrimination irrelevant. Perhaps the Crows are optimists but, in any country where equality before the law occurs as a matter of course, experience ultimately trumps prejudice every time.

According to the Australian Human Resources Institute, 37 per cent of employers surveyed say they are certain “negative perceptions” of older workers do not play any role in recruitment decisions in their workplace.[vi] At which the Crows optimistically applaud – a third plus now is more than half in a decade and three quarters by 2030, as the population ages and the country starts to kid itself that people who were dills in their 40s are fonts of wisdom 20 years later.

In the case of older Australians, the need for more of the smart ones in the workforce will reduce community opinion that they are intellectually arthritic and incapable of innovating in the workplace. According to Treasury, mature age workforce participation is expected to increase from around 60 per cent now to a base rate of 62 per cent by mid century. But lifting that figure to 65 per cent could increase per capita GDP by 2.4 per cent.[vii]

Even in politics, the case for older workers will likely apply, in fact it does already. While there was white-anting in the west, Mark Latham was making the case for patriarchs in politics in the Fin:

Looking back I came to the leadership too young (at 42 years of age), with too little life experience (not yet having built a home and raised a family) and with too much of my policy thinking still a work in progress.[viii] 

Whether or not we need an age discrimination commission now, with luck we will not in a decade’s time. But not to worry, whoever is in the job then will be able to find lots of other laws that cover an unfair dismissal claim.



[i] Jonathan Barrett and Julie-Anne Sprague, “Ageist jibes get under Colin Barnett’s ‘young’ skin” Australian Financial Review, March 7

[ii] Australian Bureau of Statistics, “2011 Quickstats:Western Australia,” @ www.censusdata.abs.gov.au/census_services/getproduct/census/2011/quickstat/5 October 30 2012, recovered on March 8

[iv] Commonwealth of Australia, Age Discrimination Act (2004) 14 a @ www.austlii.edu.au/au/legis/cth/consol_act/ada2004174/s14.html recovered on March 10

[v] Attorney-General’s Department, “Exposure draft human rights and anti-discrimination bill 2012” @ www.ag.gov.au/Consultations/Pages/ConsolidationofCommonwealthanti-discriminationlaws.aspx recovered on March 10

[vi] Australian Human Resources Institute, “Mature age workforce participation 2012”, @ www.ahri.com.au/MMSDocuments/profdevelopment/research/research_papers/mature_age_workforce_participation_final.pdf recovered on March 10

[vii] Australian Treasury, “Australia to 2050,” January 2010, 29 @ www.archive.treasury.gov.au/igr/igr2010/report/pdf/IGR_2010.pdf recovered on March 10

[viii] Mark Latham, “Left on the outer,” AFR March 8