Australia has ranked well on the latest version of an inequality index released by Oxfam and Development Finance International, but still has much more to do to tackle the persistent problem of rising inequality and to assist the most vulnerable in our community.
The second version of the Commitment to Reducing Inequality Index, which follows a similar report released last year, has ranked Australia at 13 out of 157 countries on three areas – social spending, tax and labour rights – that are critical to tackling inequality, a major driver of poverty.
Oxfam Australia Fair Economies Adviser Joy Kyriacou said the index was not a measure of inequality in a country, but a ranking of current laws that tackle inequality in each country – and Australia’s performance had both strengths and weaknesses.
“Inequality in Australia – where the richest 1 per cent own more than the bottom 70 per cent of the population combined – is a significant issue and has been gradually rising over the past three decades,” Ms Kyriacou said.
“While Australia has enjoyed an uninterrupted period of economic growth, not everybody has benefitted – households in the bottom of the income spectrum are likely to have remained trapped there, and about 9 per cent of Australians had experienced income poverty over the past three decades.
“What this index shows is that all countries – even those on the top of the rankings – have significant room for improvement.”
The index has ranked Australia 1st on the area of its tax policies – but this is mostly because other countries are relatively worse performers in terms of harmful tax practices.
“Australia is to be commended for excluding itself from the race to the bottom on harmful tax practices,” Ms Kyriacou said. “But we still rank well behind other OECD countries on some aspects of our tax system, coming in at 40th on tax collection efforts and 35th on the fairness of our tax structure.
“Changes to Australia’s tax system that will make it less progressive – and disproportionately benefit high income earners through flattened personal income tax rates – will likely jeopardise this overall ranking on tax policies in the future.
“The index also does not take into account transparency measures to further crackdown on tax avoidance by big business, with Australia yet to introduce public country by country reporting on tax affairs – despite more than one in three large companies paying not a single dollar of tax in Australia over the last three years of reporting.”
The index has also ranked Australia at 37th on its labour rights policies and 31st on social spending – both scores that reveal there is room for vast improvement.
“Australia was found to be among the biggest cutters of health spending, with a 2.81 per cent reduction in this area placing it in the worst 10 countries on this measure,” Ms Kyriacou said. “Australia also ranks 76th in the world on education spending, with many developing and middle-income countries outranking us.
“As a wealthy country, Australia cannot afford to show any complacency on its commitment to tackling inequality.”
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