OPINION PIECE: Mamamia- Economic Inequality, Thursday 7 May 2015

 

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THE HON TANYA PLIBERSEK MP
DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION
SHADOW MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS AND INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT
MEMBER FOR SYDNEY

 

ECONOMIC INEQUALITY

Economic inequality.  If you’ve travelled overseas, chances are you’ve come face to face with some extreme examples.  Five star hotels and slums, cheek by jowl.  Children begging outside expensive designer shops.

Of course, Australia is not immune to economic inequality either.

It’s true that grinding poverty still exists here at home.  Too many people are homeless, too many Indigenous Australians are being left behind, and too many people are struggling to make ends meet.

Yet it’s also true that by many general measures, Australia does pretty well.

We’ve had more than 20 years of continuous economic growth.  We came through the Global Financial Crisis better than nearly all similar countries.  We have good health and education systems.  We are a safe and peaceful nation.

In fact, when Labor was last in Government, Australia topped the Better Life Index three years straight, beating all other advanced nations.  The Better Life Index looks at how countries perform in areas like jobs, incomes, health, and the environment.

So if things are okay overall, how it is that Australia still has pockets of shameful disadvantage, and why does it seem harder than ever for the average family to get ahead?  And what should we be doing about it?

Let’s dig a little deeper.

While Australia has enjoyed an unprecedented stretch of relatively good economic times, the truth is the benefits have been spread unevenly.  We know this because something called the ‘Gini coefficient’ (a useful number that measures economic inequality) has mostly been getting worse for decades.

Put simply, in Australia, the trend has seen the rich getting richer, and the poor poorer.

The three richest Australians have more wealth than the million poorest.

But it doesn’t have to be that way – and that’s where government comes in.

Things improve when governments prioritise policies that help fight inequality.  In Government, Labor pursued those policies, from the National Disability Insurance Scheme, fairer education funding, better healthcare, to tax cuts for low income earners.

And what happened?  The gap between rich and poor actually started to close - with the ‘Gini coefficient’ improving while we were in Government.

But Tony Abbott has unravelled much of Labor's work.

Because of Tony Abbott’s last Budget the average family is $6000 worse off.  Pensioners will be around $80 a week worse off within a decade, our kids will pay $100,000 for university degrees, and all Australians will pay more to see the doctor and to fill a car with petrol.

Under the Abbott Government the average family feels it’s harder to get ahead, because, sadly, it is.

Equality doesn’t happen by accident.  The choices governments make, especially at Budget time, have the power to make Australia a more economically equal place – or not.

On the eve of this second Budget, there are a few things I think Tony Abbott should remember.

Reducing inequality is not just good for the poorest Australians, it benefits us all.

Countries which are more equal tend to be more economically successful.  That's been proven by the IMF, the World Bank, the Centre for American Progress, Nobel Prize winning economists like Joseph Stiglitz, and academics like Thomas Piketty.

Lower inequality is good for everyone, because when we invest in the basics like good health and education, and decent pay and conditions, the investment pays off with greater economic activity.

As a mum, all I want is for my sons, and my daughter, to grow up in an Australia with both a strong economy and a fair society - where they can get great education and healthcare, where they can get a job, and where they can afford to live a good life.

But I don’t just want that for my own kids, I want it for all kids.  Australia's strength and prosperity in the future will depend on all Australians having the chance to contribute to our nation.

Reducing inequality is good for us all, and we deserve a government that works to make that happen.

This article was originally published in MAMAMIA 


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