In recent decades the benefits of strong economic growth have flown disproportionately to the rich and economic inequality is growing rapidly in Australia. This is not only unfair it also poses threats to community wellbeing, health, social stability, sustainable growth and long-term prosperity.


Source: ABS, Household Income and Income Distribution, Australia, 2011-12

As the graph illustrates, extreme financial inequality exists in Australia and research indicates it is increasing. We need to generate a national conversation about the type of community we want.

Australia21, in collaboration with the Australia Institute, held a multidisciplinary roundtable of stakeholders and experts at Parliament House Canberra on 31 January 2014 to explore this question:

“How should Australia respond to the evidence of growing inequality in wealth and health? It will consider the measurable adverse consequences of income inequality in Australia, at individual, family and community levels, and how they might be most effectively minimised through policy change?”IMG_1089 (2) cropped bob

Invitees included relevant researchers, economists, retired and current politicians, state and federal government advisers, peak social welfare bodies and representatives of the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, The Australia Institute and the recently formed Australian Social Determinants of Health Alliance. They considered data on current Australian inequalities, current Australian knowledge on these matters as well as the necessary elements of an ongoing research investigation involving state governments, research institutions, economists and senior policymakers.

This project was supported by the Reichstein Foundation, the Social Justice Fund and the ACT Government.

Bob Douglas, leader of the inequality project at the roundtable

Discussion paper

A discussion paper, Unfair economic arrangements make us sick How should Australia respond to the expanding financial inequities among its citizens? released on 30 December 2013 provided background for the roundtable. Written by Sharon Friel, Professor of Health Equity at the National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health at ANU and Richard Denniss, Executive Director of The Australia Institute. Click on the title for a free download.


The report of the roundtable, Advance Australia Fair? What to do about growing inequality in Australia by Bob Douglas, Sharon Friel, Richard Denniss and David Morawetz identified 10 ways to ‘Advance Australia Fair. It is available for free download or purchase of a hard copy.


Please have a look at our short whiteboard videos on inequality, based on our report.

Inequality in Australia

Why inequality matters

Addressing inequality in Australia

  • Inequality – Background
    Posted: June 9, 2014 - Susan Davidson

    Impacts of inequality From a nation which in the past has prided itself on our classlessness and equity, Australia is now ranked fifth highest among 23 wealthy countries in a […]

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3 comments on "Inequality"

  • I wish to make three comments:
    1. People with a severe psychiatric illness are the most disadvantaged individuals in Australia.
    2. Probably not in second place but still seriously disadvantaged are retired Commonwealth public servants. Our superannuation is not adequately indexed. This has been recognised for several decades by both sides of politics. Clearly even the prospect of massive savings in age pensions and benefits is not enough to persuade politicians to treat their former dedicated employees fairly.
    3. Younger people in the workforce are not disadvantaged by the ageing of the Australian population. The contribution of older people to the huge volunteer sector of Australian society should be costed and taken into account in economic calculations. If this were done, it is very likely that some kind of payment system for volunteers would be seen as equitable. I have been a volunteer in many capacities since the age of 16. The majority of volunteers are over 70 and they currently and unselfishly donate their time, expertise and transport costs to society. I see little evidence that younger people have started to show any interest in the volunteer sector. Within 10 years society will have no choice but to pay for the services currently provided for free by volunteers. I am sure many volunteers would appreciate some gratitude and gratuity rather than being seen as a burden on society.

    I look forward to reading the background material when it is available. Meanwhile what’s with the American “Howdy” greeting?

  • Lyn Stephens

    Thank you Shirley for your comments, which have been passed on to the Inequality project team. The issues you raise are important, but it is possible that this project may not get to that level of detail. Perhaps you might also like to raise them with other organisations such as the Mental Health Council of Australia, the Australian Pensioners and Superannuants League and Volunteering Australia. Will look into the ‘howdy’ issue.

  • David Evans

    In my opinion Patent Laws are too protective.

    The wealthy buy new knowledge and farm the public.

    President Clinton did ban ownership of the human genome.

    Cheapest green energy in the future should be public accessable.


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