Inequality news keeps breaking over our ‘egalitarian’ homeland

The excellent online publication The Conversation provides an opportunity for academics of sprightly mind to engage in evidence-based public debate and get their views to a large, mostly non-academic audience. (Audience figures here are not too shabby, with a claim of 2.6 million users monthly. Can Murdoch’s ‘quality’ paper claim as many?)

Honest History has pursued the issue of inequality for some time and we are happy to add to our package of resources an article from David Fleming and Tom Measham, both from the CSIRO, on which areas of Australia are most unequal.

At state level, based on our estimates in 2011, the most unequal jurisdiction was NSW (0.42 [Gini co-effcient]), followed by the Northern Territory (0.40), while the least unequal was Tasmania (0.38), meaning that the gap between the rich and the poor was bigger in NSW than in Tasmania. However, income distribution varies over time, with the ACT showing the biggest change in income inequality, where the Gini coefficient increased from 0.35 in 2001 to 0.39 in 2011.

Also in The Conversation today is a handy fact check from Genevieve Knight of Flinders University of Bill Shorten’s claim recently on QandA that Australia is the most unequal it has been for 75 years. (This relied mostly on work by Andrew Leigh MP, which we have featured.) The verdict?

It all depends on what figures you use. Shorten’s representation of his ALP colleague Andrew Leigh’s data is perhaps slightly exaggerated but broadly correct – give or take a few years. There are not many inequality analyses going back as far as 75 years and most research supports the proposition that inequality has been rising in Australia.

There is data recently released by the ABS using the Gini coefficient that suggests inequality may have been a little bit higher seven or eight years ago than it is now. But there are strong doubts about whether this is true statistical difference or a trend. So it is too early to say whether inequality was stable or falling over the period from 2007-8 to now.

And the fact check gets a tick from The Conversation‘s reviewer, who concludes there are some issues about choice of index but, nevertheless, ‘[w]hatever index we use, it is reasonably clear that inequality is not falling over the long term in Australia, and is a key area of policy concern’.

28 September 2015


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