Growing inequality in Australia –
Does it matter to everyone?
Inequality does not have to be an inevitable consequence of social progress. There are several levers available to policy makers to arrest the detrimental changes which have recently been most evident in the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia and which have been largely avoided in the Scandinavian countries and Japan.
Inequality in Australia is an area of interest to Australia21 and we are keen to support more investigation into this topic. Here is a taste of the issues.
Impacts of growing inequality
From a nation which in the past has prided itself on our classlessness and equity, Australia is now ranked fifth highest among 23 wealthy countries in a measure of financial inequality. This, it seems, is a consequence of global change, new technologies, a lagging educational system and, according to Canberra parliamentarian/economist, Andrew Leigh, in his recent book, "Battlers and Billionaires" a decline in the influence of trade unions.
As a result of these local and global changes our growing national wealth is fuelling an expanding gap between the 20% of the most wealthy Australians and the 20% of people at the bottom of the wealth ladder. Leigh has drawn together data and arguments, which point to an assault on the widely held Australian value of equal opportunity. His work complements, and in some areas, challenges the work of Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett, authors of another recent book on the consequences of global inequality, "The Spirit Level: Why equality is better for everyone”.
While Wilkinson and Pickett claim that restoration of greater equality would likely result in a range of health and social benefits including reductions in disease, violence, drug use and single parent families across the whole society, Leigh is circumspect about their claims, while agreeing with them that increased inequality has deeply corrosive and deleterious effects on our daily lives and democratic institutions. Both books assert that inequality is not an inevitable consequence of social progress, as there are several levers available to policy makers to arrest the detrimental changes which have recently been most evident in the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia and which have been largely avoided in the Scandinavian countries and Japan.
The case for a more equitable Australia
Reverend Tim Costello AO, CEO of World Vision Australia, and Ross Gittins, economics editor of the Sydney Morning Herald
and economics columnist for The Age
shared their thoughts on ‘The case for a more equitable society’ when they jointly delivered the Gavin Mooney Memorial Oration In Melbourne this week. They considered what needs to be done to create a more equitable Australia: the issues that need to be addressed, the public policies that need to be implemented, and the roles that politicians and civil society need to play. This lecture was presented by the University of Melbourne in partnership with The Australia Institute and is available at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-iJ3vHHHSfE&feature=c4- overview&list=UUKOfG5nxZCffjOqOzaTFTcA