Monday, 4 June, 2018


The topic of inequality was addressed by Hugh Mackay and Melinda Cilento at the May economic breakfast of the Hunter Research Foundation (HRF) Centre.

Not all Australians are getting a fair go in our modern society, stated Mackay, a social researcher and author of the new book, Reinventing Australia.

“We are the land of the fair go unless you are an asylum seeker, especially one who came by boat. Unless you are an Indigenous Australian, unless you are a woman hoping for true equality in the workplace, unless you are one of the millions of Australians who now find themselves on the wrong side of the income inequality gap.”

Cilento, CEO of CEDA (Committee for Economic Development of Australia) cited figures from their recently released report on inequality. They show that 13 per cent of Australia’s population are living below the poverty line. Cilento argued that growing inequality is an economic problem that Australia urgently needs to address. Cilento committed CEDA to research further these costs, and benefits, of economic growth.

The extent of inequality in the Hunter is evident in 2016 Census data, particularly in figures of the Index of Relative Socio-economic Disadvantage (IRSD). The index employs a range of indicators, including income, qualifications and skills. Regions and localities with a low score are experiencing greater disadvantage.

By this measure, many local government areas in the Hunter slipped down the national rankings between 2011 and 2016. Only Dungog LGA increased its Australian decile ranking. Some other Hunter localities now sit in the bottom 30 per cent of Australian LGAs.

The index shows a geographic divide between the Lower and Upper Hunter. LGAs in the Upper Hunter experienced an increase in relative disadvantage. The more urban LGAs, Newcastle and Lake Macquarie, stayed steady and in the top (least disadvantaged) 30 per cent nationally.

Even the less disadvantaged Hunter LGAs show evidence of inequality at suburb and postcode level. Pockets of disadvantage exist in every LGA, areas where Hunter residents suffer from a disproportionate number of barriers to achieving a fair go.

Not surprisingly, HRF Centre research shows that inequality affects wellbeing. In 2016, Hunter residents experienced lower scores in the Centre’s wellbeing index when they faced unemployment, financial stress, job insecurity, low levels of housing affordability and reduced community connectedness.

However, the full effects of inequality on the region and the nation may not be felt until the future. Younger Hunter residents (18-29 year olds) face more challenges than those in other age groups, according to our data. They are more likely to be short on money, unable to afford day-to-day needs and to feel housing is unaffordable. They also face the global challenges presented to future workers by emerging technologies, which were discussed by Cilento.

The CEDA report, How Unequal? Insights on Inequality, recommends changes in housing policy and regulation, taxation, education and training, and data regulation.

These recommendations apply to the Hunter. According to the latest Census economic transition has seen nearly 9,000 regional manufacturing jobs lost between 2011 and 2016 across the Hunter. For housing market entrants, housing is at its most unaffordable level since the HRF Centre began its First Home Buyers Index in 1997. We lag the nation in our educational attainment levels.

Regional plans need to include policies that ensure that all Hunter residents, from every LGA and postcode, are able to share in future prosperity.

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