Oration focuses on economic inequality

Danielle Wood

The role of the government policy in economic inequality will be addressed at the University of Adelaide’s 2024 Hugh Stretton Oration.

Productivity Commission Chair Danielle Wood will use the organisation’s latest data to analyse economic inequality in Australia, how it has changed over time and its consequences.

“Egalitarianism is tied up with Australian identity,” said Ms Wood.

“We are the land of the ‘fair go’, a place where your taxi driver, your boss, and even the Prime Minister can all be safely referred to as your ‘mate’. But does the reality match the mythology?”

As part of the oration Ms Wood, who is a graduate of the University of Adelaide, will demonstrate that wealth is much less evenly distributed across Australian households than income and show the mixed impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on income inequality.

“The top 10 per cent of Australia’s richest households own more than 70 times as much wealth as households in the bottom 10 per cent of the wealth distribution. For income, it’s only four times as much”, she said.

“The three years of the COVID-19 period reflect quite different inequality dynamics.

“At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Coronavirus Supplement and JobKeeper payments produced high income growth for those at the bottom and middle of the income distribution.”

As the economy re-opened, supports were withdrawn, and those gains were reversed; however, high income households benefited from the growth in business income and decent investment income, as the economy recovered.

The pandemic also produced surprising results for wealth inequality.

“Pre-pandemic, wealth grew faster for the top half of the distribution the population?” said Ms Wood.

“This pattern flipped during the COVID years, where wealth grew more quickly overall and significantly faster for lower and lower middle wealth groups.”

Following Ms Wood’s oration the University of Adelaide’s Professor Fran Baum, Director, Stretton Health Equity, and Professor Emma Barker, Professor of Housing Research will respond.

The Stretton Institute facilitates stronger links between government, industry and the University in bringing together policy researchers and experts to address key policy issues.

“With the federal budget grappling with cost of living challenges for most Australians, this presentation is timely as it will focus on the drivers of inequality in Australia, and test us to look at ways to mitigate inequality,” said Stretton Institute Director Professor Adam Graycar.

“Rarely do policies have a win for all, and hard choices are often made.”

A transcript of Ms Wood’s presentation will be made available on the Productivity Commission’s website following delivery of the oration.

The Hugh Stretton Oration, an annual public lecture established in 2021 in honour of the late Emeritus Professor Hugh Stretton AC, will be held in the Elder Hall, from 5:30pm to 7:30pm on Wednesday, 22 May.

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