A recent ABS report, Measures of Australia’s Progress 2010, shows that income inequality in Australia over the past decade or so continues to increase.
Between 1995 and 2008, for example, the top 20% increased their share of total income from 37.8% to 39.4% while the bottom 20% went down from 7.9% to 7.6%. Further, it was only the top 20% who increased their share — everybody else went backwards.
So it seems that the rich are getting still richer faster than all of the rest of us.
What it is not possible to glean from the stats is what happened to the top 1% or the top 2%. Pity. One can only wonder.
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We do know, however, that Ralph Norris, the boss of the Commonwealth Bank, last year earned $16.1 million, an 80% increase on the previous year. That is nearly $300,000 a week or, assuming a five day week, $60,000 a day.
Perhaps it is not surprising that such inequality continues to grow. The wages share of GDP 30 years ago was 62.7% but has fallen to just 54% in 2008-9. The profits share has rocketed to 27.7%, while back in the 1960s and 1970s it was mostly under 20%.
What I find really problematical in all of this is that there was virtually no debate at the recent election on income distribution.
Further, in all the discussions about health care reform, there has been so little about addressing the social determinants of ill-health.
OK, we have had the Preventative Health Task Force. But on obesity, for example, we need much more attention given to the fact that more unequal societies tend to be more obese.
And where in the proposals for primary health care organisations is there genuine thought about how to embrace policies dealing with poverty and inequality? Why can’t we have primary care organisations for health?
Did Ken Henry, in his review of the tax system, look at the impact of his proposed tax changes on health through their impact on inequalities? And did we in the public health community do enough to tell Henry about the possible impacts of his proposals on the nation’s health?
Of course, health care reform matters, and finding measures to reduce obesity matters, and primary health care in this country badly needs to be shaken up.
But are we not perhaps urinating in the wind when both of our neoliberal masters, whether called the ALP or the Coalition, preside over ever-increasing inequalities?
Should we not be tackling or as a minimum exposing the massive structural problems in this society?
*Gavin Mooney is a health economist with honorary positions at the University of Sydney and other universities