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Australia’s billionaires double fortunes during pandemic as global inequality grows

The wealth of Australia’s 47 billionaires has doubled to $255 billion at a rate of $2376 per second or more than $205 million a day during the first two years of a pandemic that has seen the incomes of 99% of humanity fall and more than 160 million people forced into poverty. 

That equates to more wealth in the hands of 47 people than the poorest 30% of Australians (7.7 million people). 

A briefing published today by Oxfam, Inequality Kills, has warned of the deadly nature of the world’s growing extreme economic inequality, ahead of the World Economic Forum’s Davos Agenda meetings. 

The report found inequality is contributing to the death of at least 21,000 people each day, or one person every four seconds. This conservative finding is based on deaths globally from lack of access to healthcare, gender-based violence, hunger, and climate breakdown. 

Oxfam analysis found the incredible Australian outcome was mirrored at a global level, revealing: 

  • The world’s ten richest men more than doubled their fortunes to $1.9 trillion at a rate of $18,750 per second or $1.6 billion a day; 
  • If those ten men were to lose 99.999% of their wealth tomorrow, they would still be richer than 99% of all the people on Earth; 
  • They now have six times more wealth than the world’s poorest 3.1 billion people.

Oxfam Australia Chief Executive Lyn Morgain said the need to address the obscene ramifications of inequality, including poverty, had never been more urgent.  

“The record-breaking nature of the growth in their wealth means that while many have been pushed to the brink, billionaires have had a terrific pandemic. Central banks have pumped trillions of dollars into financial markets to save the economy, yet much of that has ended up lining the pockets of billionaires riding a stock market boom,” she said. 

The report shows how extreme inequality is a form of economic violence, where policies and political decisions that perpetuate the wealth and power of the privileged few result in direct harm to the vast majority of people across the world, particularly in countries where Oxfam works.  

“Inequality at such pace and scale is happening by choice, not chance,” Ms Morgain said. “Not only have our economic structures made us all less safe in this pandemic, they are actively enabling those who are already extremely rich and powerful to exploit this crisis for their own profit.” 

The report also notes the significance of the world’s two largest economies — the US and China — starting to consider policies that reduce inequality, including by imposing higher tax rates on the rich and taking action against monopolies. “This provides us with some measured hope for a new economic consensus to emerge,” Ms Morgain said. 

“Here in Australia, and globally, there is a shortage of the courage and imagination needed to break free from the failed, deadly straitjacket of broken economic systems.” 

She said the rapid spread of the Omicron variant had perfectly illustrated the interconnectedness of the global population and the deadly consequences for all in allowing this level of inequality to develop. 

“It’s time for the Australian Government to take this issue seriously and take action to close the gap between the rich and poor. We have calculated that an annual $30 billion wealth tax would have a massive impact.  

“For example, it could cover close to half the cost of achieving the World Health Organization’s mid-2022 vaccination goal for lower income countries, helping protect all people, including Australians, from further variants and preventing millions of people around the world being pushed into greater hardship and poverty,” Ms Morgain said. 

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