Australian wealth inequality grows: report

Marnie Banger

Australia may be known to some as the lucky country, but a new report has shone light on just how unequally prosperity is distributed in the nation.

The top one per cent of Australian earners take home as much in a fortnight as the lowest five per cent of earners do in a year, according to the report from the Australian Council of Social Service and the University of NSW.

That means the very top earners are raking in about $11,682 a week, while the lowest are getting $436.

Despite this disparity in incomes, the Inequality in Australia 2018 report - which contains fresh analysis of Australian Bureau of Statistics data - says income inequality has plateaued since rising between 2000 and 2008, when it peaked in the global financial crisis.

The same cannot be said for the gap between the wealth of households, which ultimately grew between 2003 and 2015.

In that time, the average wealth of the richest 20 per cent of households rose by 53 per cent, while that of the least wealthy 20 per cent of households fell by nine per cent.

The richest households now boast an average wealth of $2.9 million, while the least wealthy have on average $30,000.

ACOSS chief executive Dr Cassandra Goldie says in recent decades inequality in Australia has worsened during economic booms and flattened when the economy has been slower.

But she says Australians should not accept increased inequality as an inevitable by-product of growth, as increased social security payments and fewer tax loopholes for the rich could help bridge the gap.

"Unfortunately, the recently legislated income tax cuts, and a lack of action to lift the lowest social security payments including Newstart Allowance, both take us in the wrong direction," Dr Goldie said in a statement.

"Once income growth is restored, we can expect inequality to rise further unless governments, business, unions and communities actively work together to prevent this."

The report, released on Tuesday, also found a shift in wealth from older households to younger ones.

The wealth of households with a reference person aged older than 64 years increased by 57 per cent between 2003 and 2015, compared to a 22 per cent rise for those with someone aged under 35.

Australia also has the fifth highest number of people in the world with wealth exceeding $US50 million ($A65 million) at 3000.