That’s according to a new Oxfam report, which has revealed alarming details of Australia’s wealth gap problem.
The research found Australia’s 250,000 richest people own 22.2 per cent of the country’s total wealth, and while the total number of billionaires has slightly dropped to 36, the average wealth of an Australian billionaire grew by $667 million from 2018 to 2019.
Meanwhile, the richest 11 Aussies hold more wealth than almost five million people.
And at the same time, the Australian Taxation Office estimates large corporations avoided paying $2 billion in taxes in 2016–17 – the same amount as the Federal Government’s entire National Bushfire Recovery Fund.
Oxfam Australia chief executive Lyn Morgain told news.com.au that wealth inequality was an issue for all of us, even those who were relatively well off, and it was essential our elites paid their fair share in tax.
She said money made from resources should be taxed “appropriately” and spent on things that benefit all of us, like health and education.
“It’s not a problem that rich people are rich – what is a problem is when we get too great a gap between the everyday experience of 50 per cent of Australians and the super rich. At the end of the day it’s the relativity that matters,” she said.
“There is very clear research that says the greater the gap between rich and poor in any country, the more likely there is to be poor health, social problems and difficulties meeting people’s everyday needs.”
Ms Morgain said a large gap between rich and poor impacted people’s ability to “live a decent life” and a growing number of Aussies were now struggling financially, even though we are an “incredibly wealthy country”.
“Basic opportunities like going to the movies, having a holiday or being able to afford to replace the fridge if it breaks down are no longer guaranteed, and the real issue is making sure enough of that money at the top end is being spread – and the way we do that is obviously through taxation,” she said.
And according to Emma Dawson, the executive director of progressive Australian think tank Per Capita, inequality in Australia is higher than most people probably expect – and while some at the top have made their money from their own ingenuity, many had made vast fortunes through mining and resources that “belong to all of us”.
“Minerals in the ground are common property and we don’t tax them anything like comparable jurisdictions in the world,” she told news.com.au.
“A lot of money has been made from selling off assets that belong to all of us, and you can only sell them once – it takes a billion years for coal to form, so we’re not getting our fair share.”
Ms Dawson said inequality could never be completely eradicated, but there were ways to make the system fairer.
“It doesn’t mean taxing the rich at 80 per cent and giving the money to other people – it’s not class warfare – but we live in a society where we have choices about making things a bit easier for people,” she said.
She said if the nation imposed a little more tax on the “super wealthy” and also cracked down on tax evasion we would have far more to spend on things like education, childcare, aged care and other community needs.
Ms Dawson said she believed most people would be surprised by the level of inequality in Australia today as they believed the tax system was “unfairly skewed towards the very wealthy and big business”.
Oxfam’s report coincides with research from the Public Health Information Development Unit at Torrens University in Adelaide that analysed Australian Bureau of Statistics data to reveal the gap in the quality of health between affluent and disadvantaged Australians was also continuing to increase.
The research found the rates of obesity, smoking, asthma, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and psychological distress were worst among the disadvantaged and poorer Australians were more likely to die at younger ages.
– with wires