Australia’s richest are also feeling the effects of growing wealth inequality, or at least that’s what the Australian Financial Review’s (AFR) 2023 Rich List wants you to think.
The wealthiest 200 Australians, who have a staggering $563 billion, have only increased that wealth by 1% on last year: only the top 10 super rich increased their wealth, according to the AFR. It posits this “slower” year is due to “mining up, property flat, technology down” and that for this year’s list “What’s old is new again”.
Tech start-ups, which dominated last year’s list, came crashing down, due to rising inflation and interest rates.
Mining CEOs captured more than half of all corporate profits, making rich people even richer. Gina Rinehart and Andrew Forrest are still at the top of the list, in first and second place, with their respective $37.41 billion and $33.29 billion “fortunes” growing — the result of soaring global fossil fuel energy prices and demand for iron ore.
This is Rinehart’s fourth year in the top spot. Her enormous wealth hasn’t stopped her from wanting more. As she self-servingly told the Queensland Resources Council (QRC), more mines are the solution to Australia’s “debt pressures”.
She said climate change and renewable energy receive too much attention in school curriculums and the mining sector needs to “take every opportunity you can to remind everyone of the essential contribution of mining”.
Incredibly, Rhinehart was recently named “West Australian of the Year” for her “outstanding contribution to the state and national economy” by Celebrate WA, which is sponsored by BHP, the WA government and Lotterywest.
As billionaires amass vast fortunes — helped along by tax cuts — the majority of us face rising interest rates, housing instability and a lagging minimum wage.
Rinehart claims that the meagre $20-a-week raise to welfare payments and investment in climate action is what’s preventing Australia from being able to pay for “defence”. She wants the mining industry to be deregulated and expanded, saying that would alleviate financial pressure on governments.
That would be true if mining bosses were adequately taxed, something no government is game to do.
Rich List regular Clive Palmer has also felt the positive effects of the mining boom, jumping from seventh to fifth spot.
Palmer’s wealth increased by more than 20% — more than $4 billion — the biggest rise in the top 10. He was helped along by the $1.4 billion price tag on his Townsville nickel refinery, the one that closed its doors in 2016, leaving hundreds jobless.
Palmer overtook Atlassian founders Mike Cannon-Brookes and Scott Farquhar, who dropped down by one.
Canva founders Cliff Obrecht and Melanie Perkins also fell a spot, highlighting technology’s backslide, and others from the tech sector, such as Tesla chairman Robyn Denholm, failed to even make the $690 million cut off for 200th place. This year’s only new billionaire is 27-year-old online casino stake.com founder Ed Craven.
Just one woman was added to this year’s list — jointly recognised with her husband — making a total of 36 women (one less than last year). From the point of view of the 1%, that’s progress compared to the original 1983 Rich List, which included only four women.
But equality among the super rich is meaningless when the 99% are still battling systemic gender inequality. As a report from The Australia Institute recently showed, women still earn $3 billion less than men every week, despite making up almost half the workforce and still shouldering most of the domestic and care work at home.
AFR pointed out that the first Rich List’s combined wealth of $4.6 billion would have only grown to $15 billion if interest rates had stayed around 2.5%. This year’s collective $563 billion reveals the huge amount of money the rich have siphoned away from the working class.
This matches the fact that 93% of new economic growth between 2009 and 2019 went to the richest 10%. AFR calls this daylight robbery “respectable”, as if wage theft, in the form of corporate profits, is commendable.