This report results from an all-day roundtable discussion by 32 experts from diverse backgrounds in Australia. The participants met in Parliament House Canberra on Monday 18 June 2018, to consider the nature, causes, consequences and possible solutions to growing Australian inequality. The meeting was jointly sponsored by two independent think tanks, Australia21 and the Australian Institute, and hosted by the former Treasurer and Deputy Prime Minister, Hon Wayne Swan MP.
Participants included two senior Labor Party politicians and the leader of the Greens, but no one from the Coalition parties despite a number being invited. In preparation for the meeting, invitees provided brief summaries of their views on the questions to be considered that were distributed to all participants, and the fve hours of ensuing discussion were recorded and transcribed.
The roundtable concluded that, like several other English-speaking democracies, Australia is at a watershed and that the current level of inequality demands a new, vigorous and uncompromising campaign to engage all Australians in a re-conception of the kind of country we want and the values that should drive future public policy. There was consensus that current policies are profoundly unfair to Australians on the lower rungs of the economic ladder and threaten the future of humans and the planet.
Some inequality in wealth, income and opportunity will always be with us, but the gap in current levels will go on increasing unless there is a signifcant change in policy direction. Australia’s Social Security system is no longer adequate and imposes unacceptable constraints on the growing numbers of people battling the consequences of poverty, unemployment, homelessness and general social disadvantage.
Several international agencies, including the IMF and the World Bank, as well as The Economist, have warned that levels of inequality of the kind now experienced in Australia are antithetical to economic growth. Corporations and rich individuals are promoting an outmoded “trickle down” approach to the economy, fuelled by uncritical application of the notion of “selfsh economic man”.
Most Australians underestimate the size of the diferential of wealth and income between those in the top 10% and those in the bottom 90%. In one survey, the average Australian thought the richest 20% had four times more wealth than the poorest, when the most recent ABS data show that the actual diferential is 60 times.When people are made aware of the diferential, evidence suggests they are frmly supportive of early remedial action.
Australia is no longer a classless society. Global inequality is now growing, and global sustainability is decreasing.