Rich Listers grow as JobSeeker is cut

November 12, 2020
Top of the 2020 Rich List Gina Rhinehart pictured with Indian President Narendra Modi in 2015. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The Australian Financial Review (AFR) Rich List 2020 reveals that the pandemic and associated economic crisis hasn’t impacted the 1%.

The October 29 annual report shows that while some Rich Listers have been mildly affected, the super-rich have become richer — in particular iron ore magnates Gina Rinehart and Andrew Forrest who are capitalising on greater demand from China.

Australia’s 200 richest plutocrats increased their collective wealth by a whopping 24%, to $424 billion.

Now, the country has a record 104 billionaires: the list cut-off is at an all-time high of $540 million.

Twelve Rich Listers from Western Australia, capitalising from iron ore exports more than doubled their wealth to nearly $80 billion collectively. Rinehart tops the list with $28.89 billion — up 109% since last year.

Forrest came in second: at one stage during the year he was adding $500 million per week to his fortune. His declared wealth went from $7.99 billion last year to $23 billion this year.

The AFR Rich List, published since 1983, offers an insight into which industries have suffered and which have flourished in the worst economic downturn since the 1930s.

The acceleration to e-commerce during the lockdown helped e-tailers such as Ruslan Kogan, who re-entered the Rich List with a net wealth of $575 million, as well as traditional retailers such as Gerry Harvey, whose wealth went up 35%, to $2.57 billion.

Stock market interest in “buy now, pay later” businesses, such as Afterpay, has brought in new young billionaires — such as Nick Molnar who now ranks 50th (up 283% and worth $1.86 billion).

For media and advertising corporations, the year has delivered mixed results. Kerry Stokes of Seven West Media, at number 10, can boast a fortune of $6.26 billion, up from $5.69 billion.

While a handful of people have become even more obscenely wealthy, for the majority of people this year has been hard.

The University of New South Wales Social Policy Research Centre (SPRC) and the Australian Council of Social Services (ACOSS) new inequality analysis before the pandemic hit, released in early September, provides a baseline to measure the impact of the pandemic on income and wealth inequality.

Inequality in Australia 2020: Part 1 — Overview confirmed that the JobSeeker and JobKeeper payments provided an essential a safety net, but that the pandemic’s long-term effect on income and wealth inequality would depend on what happens to these supplements.

Using Australian Bureau of Statistics 2017-18 data, the report found that pre-COVID-19 the incomes of the top 20% were six times higher than the lowest 20%. That gap has widened since 2015-16, when the ratio was 1:5.

The report’s data shows that, for the first time, “average household wealth” exceeded $1 million in 2017-18.

However, this figure can be deceiving because the distribution of wealth is very unequal: the average wealth of the top 20% ($3,255,000) is 90 times that of the lowest 20% ($36,000).

Those in the lowest 10% held $8000 in average net wealth, and the bottom 5% held net debts of $5000.

The October federal budget’s changes to the taxation system will also overwhelmingly benefit higher income brackets and big business.

The income tax cuts are worth $17.8 billion over four years, while business tax cuts and other measures are worth $31.5 billion — bringing the cost of the package close to $50 billion.

Meanwhile, with 1.4 million people relying on JobSeeker, the federal government has announced that, from January 1, the JobSeeker rate will be cut by $100 per week, leaving people on $51.20 per day.

The changes mean that the millions of working people receiving JobSeeker or JobKeeper face the same uncertainty, with both payments scheduled to end at the end of next March.

This means income inequality will accelerate even further, making life more difficult for many millions. Union and community campaigns are essential to stop such reactionary policies.

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