Who needs a pay rise?

Matt Groening aptly caricatured richest Australian Gina Rinehart as Mr Burns from The Simpsons in the November 24, 2010 Daily Telegraph

The richest person in Australia this year, according to the 2011 BRW Rich List, is mining magnate Gina Rinehart. Her wealth, estimated at $10.3 billion, is more than twice the wealth which gave shopping centre magnate Frank Lowy the top spot in last year’s BRW Rich List.

Rinehart’s wealth rose $5.55 billion from last year.

Adele Ferguson reported in the May 26 Sydney Morning Herald:

“The rich list shows Australia now has 35 billionaires, five more than last year. The cutoff point for the list is now $215 million, which is $30 million higher than last year… four of the country’s top-five richest people – Rinehart, Ivan Glasenberg, Andrew Forrest and Clive Palmer – have all made their money from the mining boom. Together they are worth more than $30 billion.”

Yet right now, big business representatives are urging Fair Work Australia to reject the ACTU’s modest call for $28 a week increase in the federal minimum wage. The bosses are crying poor. The Australian Chamber of Commerce wants no more than a $9.50 increase in the minimum wage.

The ACTU submission demonstrates that the 1.3 million workers who depend on the federal minimum wage are struggling with huge increases in cost of living. Over the last year, home rents have risen by an average 2.9% in capital cities, fuel 7.1%, food 8-13%, electricity 12.5% and water and sewerage bills 12.8%. Indeed the submission shows that $28 won’t even cover the median weekly rent increase on a small unit in Campbelltown in Sydney’s outer southwest.

This gross injustice is obvious but it is a chronic feature of our deeply class-divided society where the fruit of the labour of the great majority is systematically appropriated by a few.

The wealthiest 20% of Australians own 61% of the country’s wealth while the poorest 20% own 1% but few Australians are aware of this inequality according to a new study by Dr David Neale, Dr Mike Norton and Dr Dan Ariely, commissioned by the ACTU.

Source: Australian attitudes towards wealth inequality and the minimum wage (April 2011)

According to this report, most people estimate the wealth share of the richest 20% to be only about 40%, and they would like it to be less than 25%. Most people also think that poorest 20% share 9.5% of all wealth, when in fact they share only 1%. And the poorest 10% have net negative wealth (that is, they have more debts than assets).

A society built around such deep inequalities is not only unjust but is also unsustainable. The incredible amount of wealth concentrated in the hands of a handful of billionaires has meant that urgently needed investment in a transition to renewable and in social infrastructure such as public housing and public transport is not being made.  The facts show that Australia’s 35 billionaires are directing investment to maximise their profits and make themselves even richer instead of where it needs to be invested for the common good.

And worse, this distorted priority is determining not only the wealth that the 35 bilionaires own but also the savings of working people in superannuation funds (worth $1.28 trillion) and the investments of governments at all levels and other public institutions.

A recent gross example of this distortion was the recent revelation that the federal government’s $74 billion Future Fund had invested $135.4 million in nuclear weapons manufacturers. The Future Fund has previously been criticised for investing in cluster bomb manufacture and the tobacco industry.

If you agree with us that this system desperately needs changing, help us work for real change by making  a donation online today to the Green Left Weekly Fighting Fund.

Direct deposits can be made to Green Left Weekly, Commonwealth Bank, BSB 062-006, Account No. 00901992.

Otherwise, you can send a cheque or money order to PO Box 515, Broadway NSW 2007 or phone in a donation on the toll-free line, 1800 634 206 (within Australia).

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