Australia’s external appearance deceives many from the broken internal reality of the nation. Australia’s beautiful landscapes, relatively peaceful politics and a ‘laid-back’ approach to life leads many to believe that Australia is a land of equality and freedom for all. However, this is far from reality, and inequality in Australia is reaching unprecedented levels, hidden from the public and the media. This inequality has a significant impact on Australia’s democracy as it diminishes the trust of citizens in political processes.
Inequality in Australia has been consistently growing over the past few decades. 20% of the top income earners now earn approximately five times as much as Australia’s bottom 20% of income earners. Moreover, 10% of households hold 45% of all wealth while the bottom 40% of households own just 5% of all wealth. The current COVID-19 pandemic is only going to exacerbate these statistics as our unemployment level skyrockets and supplements by the government are reduced. This is dangerous for Australia’s democracy as the people it seeks to represent could very quickly lose any trust in politics.
The lack of change regarding economic inequality by successive governments has led to discontent and distrust in political institutions. Voters trust in political institutions which are supposed to ensure equality has rapidly diminished, damaging these institutions reputation of providing support. Moreover, the working class has not adequately received the reward for increase productivity; instead, a small elite group of wealthy and influential figures have reaped the rewards, illustrated by an increase of Australian billionaires from 34 in 2016 to 43 in 2017.
A further consequence of inequality on Australia’s democracy is the disengagement of voters on political matters. An international study found that lower-income individuals were less likely to be politically involved due to a loss of hope in politics achieving equality for their household. This is highlighted in Australia with low-income earners being found to enrol less than higher-income earners to vote. This disengagement is illustrated by the first election debate in 2019 only being the 19th most-watched program of the night. Australian citizens are becoming more and more disengaged from the political world, which is counter-productive to a recent rise in social media activism.
Activism is incredibly important, and while protests can generate support behind a movement and pressure governments, it is only through politics that real change can occur. I believe the value of our votes have been lost, and people no longer acknowledge the power they have to decide who represents them. This will be a severe challenge for Americans leading into their election in November where they can transform America’s political landscape if they vote.
The other significant impact of inequality on Australia’s democracy is the increase in votes for minor parties. Due to the lack of trust and direction from the major parties, many voters have moved towards radical views that prioritise dramatic change. The first preferences for minor parties at elections have increased by upwards of 10% over the past decade. The most prominent example of the rise of minor parties is that of Pauline Hanson’s One Nation. The party appeals to voters due to the party’s political narrative, which involves Australians being made victims in their own country. Although the policies of One Nation are widely frowned upon by the public, such as incredibly harsh immigration policy, One Nation still receives a significant number of votes.
This leaves the decision down to the major parties. Australia’s rapidly increasing economic inequality is resulting in voters losing trust in politics and utterly disengaged from the political landscape. This is also causing many voters to choose more radical options that resonate with their needs, such as One Nation and the Greens. If the Liberal and Labor party seek to continue representing the Australian people, there is only one path forward, ensuring equality among Australia.