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No more free pass for legislators on inequality

  • 27 February 2018


We are not all born equal. Circumstances not of our own making factor heavily in the opportunity and quality of life we lead.

Activism addressing issues of social inequality such as gender pay, disability employment and recognition of our First Peoples has created a better and more inclusive society.

While much more needs to be done, there is a ready acceptance by most Australians that policies which discriminate against a person based on gender, race, disability or religion, are wrong.

However, when it comes to economic policies that favour one group of people ahead of another we seem less concerned. Economic inequality, whether deliberate or as a consequence of the operation of the market, seems somehow okay.

Governments have recognised that power imbalances exist in our market-based economy, and have enacted legislative protections in areas such the labour market. However, such laws only provide minimum safeguards.

Our legislators seem reticent to tackle the economic policies that create or entrench economic inequality. How is it for example that we allow investors to leave units vacant in the Docklands while young people struggle to access the housing market in Melbourne? Or force the employees of charities to bear the risk of government policies of marketisation and competition in the social services sector through the casualisation of their employment?

Or require students to carry the burden of debt for undertaking tertiary studies, while allowing multinational companies to construct their financial affairs to pay little or no tax in Australia? Or permit the government to provide businesses tax relief while implementing cuts to welfare payments and supports?


"It seems that our poor, vulnerable, sick and aged have a place in our society, and it is at the bottom of the pile."


Inequality was a hot issue in 2017, and will continue to be. In July, speaking at the Melbourne Institute, Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said: 'We need a new focus on the biggest threat to our health as an economy and our cohesion as a society: inequality.'

In doing so, he marked out his party's agenda to arrest inequality in all its forms, particularly economic policies that give primacy to those with wealth at the expense of those without.

The government however would have none of this talk of inequality. Treasurer Scott Morrison accused Shorten of 'producing an economic program based on the narrow lens of envy'. In his speech to the Australian Industry Group in Adelaide, Morrison backed his argument with the following