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Oxfam report says wealth inequality in Australia is among worst in developed world

Australian dollars in Sydney, Friday, September 22, 2017. Source: AAP

A global charity has slammed the growing level of inequality between the rich and middle class in Australia. A new report by Oxfam says the number of Australian billionaires has more than doubled over the last ten years.

Growth for workers' wages has slowed to record lows.

Between them, John and Margaret Peacock have worked at the Australian Paper plant in Melbourne's north for more than 50 years.

But today, they were among 83 workers on strike, demanding better conditions, including higher wages.

"Power bills are going up, petrol's going up, bread and milk's going up, the rates are going up, insurance. Everything's going up. Our wages can't keep up with it, so we're getting lower and lower and lower."

"We work hard, we're always at work and we do the best job we can."

A new report by Oxfam shows that Australia's wealth inequality is among the worst in the developed world.

One tenth of Australians now hold slightly more combined wealth than the rest of the population.

And our richest one per cent continues to get richer, to the point where they now have more money than the bottom 70 per cent.

Dr Helen Szoke is the CEO of Oxfam Australia.

She says, if these trends continue, it will further marginalise Australians who are already failing to enjoy any equitable growth.

"For the billionaires, the growth in their wealth has risen about 140 per cent. If we look at wages growth over the same period, it's 35 per cent. But if we look at the wealth of households, for everyday Australians, it's only grown by 12 per cent."

Last year, the number of Australian billionaires rose from 25 to 33.

That's the biggest increase since the start of the century, prompting calls for greater income equality across the board.

Ged Kearney, the president of the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU), says the report underscores the need for fundamental changes in the Australian economy.

"If the rich get richer, then they'll trickle down a bit of money and we'll all benefit. But what this report shows us is that is broken. Big multinational corporations and companies need to pay their fair share of tax. Workers need a pay rise and we need the rules to give workers the power to bargain and fight for pay rises."

But Treasurer Scott Morrison has responded by telling Sky News that Australia should copy US President Donald Trump's tax policies.

"You will not get higher wages growth by keeping company taxes high."

Meanwhile, Oxfam International says the richest one per cent in the world raked in 82 per cent of global wealth.

To balance it out, Oxfam wants governments to limit the returns of shareholders and top executives and increase spending on healthcare and education.

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