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Sheil, Christopher & Frank Stilwell: Land of the ‘fair go’ no more: wealth in Australia is becoming more unequal

Sheil, Christopher & Frank Stilwell

Land of the “fair go” no more: wealth in Australia is becoming more unequal‘, The Conversation, 9 August 2016

Yet another piece to add to our collection under the thumbnail, ‘Inequality’. Reports and analyses continue to come onto the ‘market’, each tweaking a corner of the complex set of issues related to income and wealth inequality – in a land that still takes pride (in some quarters) in an egalitarian culture.

Australians often pride themselves on living in the land of the “fair go”. However, the available evidence shows the distribution of wealth in this country is no more egalitarian than the average for the OECD countries. In fact, depending on how wealth is measured, Australia may have above average inequality in wealth distribution.

The authors focus particularly on wealth – the value of the assets people own. They note that the last official wealth census in Australia was 100 years ago (in the context of World War I recruitment). They look at recent work from the Evatt Foundation, which shows much increased wealth in Australia since the 1970s but also markedly increased inequality.

A reasonable estimate is that, currently, the poorest 40% of Australian households effectively have no wealth at all: about half of them actually have negative net wealth because of their personal debts. At the opposite pole, the wealthiest 10% have more than half the nation’s total household wealth. The top 1% alone have at least 15% of the total wealth.

The authors go on to look at political implications.

An emphasis on narrowing wealth inequality needs to be present in all public policies. These range from pensions and superannuation to disability services, housing provision, transport, regional policies and taxation. Unless this integrated approach is taken, the cherished belief in a “fair go” will be a dwindling feature of life in Australia. The evidence suggests it is already disappearing.