In a five-part series this week, Crikey will examine the things that divide Australians. Today, it’s money and how it separates the haves and have nots.

Australia has always been the land of contrasts: where you can ski one week and sunbathe on a beach the next, but has it become less contrast and more divide? After years of strong economic growth, it is emerging that capitalism’s “trickle down” method of wealth distribution is more like a drip, and as such, many Australians are being left behind.

The country prospers…

  • The average fortune of those on the BRW Top 200 Rich List increased by 26.5% in the 2006-7 financial year to an average of $688 million (before sub-prime woes hit). — BRW 
  • CEOs of the top 50 Business Council of Australia member companies now earn more in a week than the average Australian earns in a year. — University of Sydney study quoted by Frank Stilwell
  • Australian motor vehicle sales are continuing to run at record levels despite rising interest rates, boosted by a buoyant SUV and light truck market. In 2007, Australians bought 1 million cars in a year for the first time. Car sales have expanded by 35% since 2001. — FCAI

And yet…

  • St. Vincent de Paul assisted over 2.1 million Australians in 2006. An estimated 100,000 Australians are currently homeless. The percentage of the population living in poverty increased in 10 years (1994 to 2004) from 7.6% to 9.9%. Australia ranks unfavourably against most OECD nations on poverty. — St Vincent’s and Australia Fair Report.
  • 26% of low-income renters sometimes went without food in 2007 —
  • It’s estimated that between 250,000 and 300,000 Australians will default on their mortgages in 2008. “Joint research by JPMorgan and Fujitsu Consulting … predicts that 750,000 owners will be hit by ‘mortgage stress’ in the coming months, meaning more than 35 per cent of their income will be swallowed by home-loan repayments.” — The Sydney Morning Herald

And on top of that:

  • At a national level, Indigenous people counted in the Census in 2006 represented 2.4% of the population with a known Indigenous status, however, Indigenous people made up 4.8% of the people with a known Indigenous status in the lowest income quintile, and only 0.6% of the highest income quintile. Approximately 45% of all Indigenous people were in the lowest income quintile. — Australian Bureau of Statistics

A class divide?

  • The top quintile of households in the 1990s enjoyed about 50% of Australia’s Gross Weekly Income, while the lowest quintile earned less than four percent. Those in the lowest quintile received an average pay rise five percent over five years, while those in the top bracket enjoyed a rise of 23.4%. — St Vincent’s de Paul 
  • In 2006 more than 83% of independent school applicants were offered a university place at Melbourne University, when only 43% of government school applicants. — according to Unequal Access to University Places, a study by the Centre for Population and Urban Research at Monash University, reporetd in The Age 

But what about Government welfare spending (fondly called ‘middle class welfare’)?

  • $4.37 billion is spent yearly on non-government schools, more than universities and government schools receive. One of the schools to benefit was the prestigious King’s School in Sydney, whose funding more than doubled from $1.44 million to $3.23 million between 2001 and 2003. This is to a school that boasts 15 cricket fields, 13 rugby fields, 14 tennis courts, five basketball courts, five soccer fields, two climbing walls, 25 and 50 metre swimming pools, a diving pool, a gym, and an indoor rifle range. — The Sydney Morning Herald
  • Suburbs with the greatest rate of uptake of the Baby Bonus (designed to help families because, according to former Treasurer Peter Costello “one of the hardest times for families, financially, follows the birth of a first child”) include the affluent Kirribilli in Sydney, central Melbourne suburbs and New Farm in Brisbane. — The Australian

Tomorrow: Wet v Dry