Inequality and Redistribution in the Australian Welfare State, 1981-82 to 2007-08

When: Tuesday 19 June
Where: Room 119, Level 1, John Goodsell Building,The University of New South Wales, 2052 NSW

This seminar assesses trends in income inequality among households of working age in Australia between the early 1980s and 2007-08, using the Income Distribution Surveys undertaken by the Australian Bureau of Statistics. The presentation shows that overall income inequality has risen over this period, but that the directions of trends differ in different sub-periods and for different income components (earnings – of men and women – self-employment and investment and property income), and that the direct tax system and social security benefits also have different impacts in different periods.

In the first half of this period, roughly corresponding to the period of Labour government, inequality in market incomes rose, but a large component of this was offset by more effective redistribution through the tax and transfer systems. In the second half of the period, corresponding to the period of Coalition government, market income inequality initially rose, but then declined, but the tax and welfare systems became less effective at reducing inequality. The periods also show significantly different patterns of growth in real incomes, with real income growth being low for most households in the first half of the period, and being high in the second period. Since 2007 there has been a slight decline in income inequality, reflecting falls in inequality in investment and property income. The presentation highlights the role of employment growth on the one hand and joblessness on the other in impacting on trends in inequality, and discusses why the social security system has become less effective in reducing inequality.

Professor Peter Whiteford, Acting Director of the Social Policy Research Centre at the University of New South Wales has had extensive experience in the field of social security policy and research, in a range of different national contexts and at the international level. He worked as a Adviser in the Office of the Minister for Social Security in 1995-96 and previously as a Consultant to the Social Security Review and in Government Departments in Australia, as well as in University research centres in the United Kingdom and in Australia, and for the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development in Paris between 2000 and 2008. In 2008 he was appointed by the Government to the Reference Group for the Review of the Australian pension system and in 2009 he was an invited keynote speaker for the Australian Treasury Conference on reform of the Australian tax system. He is Chief Investigator (with Gerry Redmond) of an Australian Research Council (ARC) funded linkage project on “Supporting Families: Equity in the Australian Tax-Transfer System”. He is an Associate Investigator with the ARC Centre of Excellence in Population Ageing Research (CEPAR).

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