A/N: This essay was written for the subject; PLT110 – Australian Politics in a Global Context.  I received a Distinction.

Politics is a complicated topic, Australian politics even more so as our political system has gone through a series of fast paced changes since the six colonies united in 1901.  Our political system has not been a shining beacon of equality and prosperity for all since the Commonwealth and this essay intends to examine and prove that Australia still has concerns of inequality and poverty in today’s environment as we did in history.

Australia, as most know it, started out as a settlement under British rule and can be traced as far back as 1788 (Lavelle, 2015).  The reason the British settled in Australia was vastly due to the overflow of British jails, spawning the age old joke of all Australians being descendants of criminals. In 1901 the six Australian colonies joined together to create the Commonwealth of Australia.  With the Commonwealth, the Australian Constitution was born, this document was to protect the Australian people and serve as a guideline for running the country (Lavelle, 2015). Over the years to come Australia would come to be involved in several wars, depressions and political upheaval.  The First World War (WWI) was a devastating time for all Australians with over 60,000 of our soldiers perishing over the course of the four years (Ward, 1965).  This was quite a substantial amount considering the population at that time was less than five million people.

Further on in our country’s interesting history we found ourselves staring at the looming head of the Great Depression, rather a bit sooner than other countries (Ward, 1965).  Due to the small population and infrastructure Australians felt the pinch of depression quite a bit more severely than our well established allies, political wars were waged on whether Australia should be required to abolish safeguarding the basic wage, which did not go down well with the Australian people, with unemployment rising and citizens feeling the strain, politicians were not popular (Ward, 1965).

Shortly after suffering through the Great Depression, World War II broke out, and Australians were once again thrust into worldwide devastating war.  There were less military causalities than the First World War, with only 26,000 Australians dying in the line of duty (Weinberg, 2005).  This time, however, the enemy struck much closer to home, with the Battle of Darwin occurring on the nineteenth of February 1942, two hundred and forty-two Japanese planes attacked ships in Darwin’s harbour, two hundred and thirty-five civilians were killed with estimated between three and four hundred wounded (Weinberg, 2005). These events went on to shape Australia’s culture and political history in the coming years.

Inequality is something of an unfortunate given in Australian history.  Our original governmental policies and procedures were founded on it. The Immigration Restriction Act, later known as the ‘White Australia’ policy restricted anyone bar Europeans into the country, rather specifically it was designed for only British migrants to be allowed into Australia (Thompson, 2011).  Of course this was not blatantly said within the policy; rather it was hidden in clever language and dictation testing; however the Australian government may as well have posted a sign at the doors boldly stating ‘No Blacks’ (Thompson, 2011).  In 1934 a man by the name of Egon Kisch, a well educated author from the Czech Republic came to the city of Melbourne to attend an anti-war conference (Ward, 1965).  Fears of communist activity from the governmental houses chose to forbid his entry into Australia.  They intended to deport him under the Immigration Restriction Act by giving him a dictation test in the ancient language of Gaelic, of course as this is a dead language Kisch failed (Ward, 1965).  The Australian government may as well have simply told him that he could not enter due to the colour of his skin; Australia was labelled as a ‘disgrace’ (Ward, 1965). Let us not forget that the British invaded Australia either, the Aboriginals indigenous to Australia were pushed out of their land and treated as below whites (O’Lincoln, 1993).  Women were also treated as beneath the man, simply being second rate, women were unable to vote in every state until 1908 and Aboriginals were unable to vote until 1962 and 1965 respectively (Stokes, 2004).

What about in more recent times?  Is Australia just as bad now as it was then?  This author would say, yes.  Here is why.  The focus has shifted slightly; Australia now plugs a multicultural society, but are we really all equal? It seems not, while women in Australia earned the right to work and vote over the course of history, it seems that they are still seen as the ‘weaker sex’, as of 2015, women earn almost nineteen percent less than their male counterparts for the same job no less (Sedghi, 2015).  This equates to almost three hundred dollar per week, and our government seems to be doing nothing about it, in fact they intend to water down statistic collection by allowing companies with under one hundred employees to no longer record the sex of their employees making it more difficult to see the gap in inequality of pay for women (Sedghi, 2015).

Australia’s indigenous population is unfortunately not fairing much better than women in our current national state.  One of the many problems the Aboriginals face is that of health and life expectancy.  For a highly developed country like Australia, all people should have equal rights in health, education and wages.  While the Aboriginal population has rights to equal wages with their colonized white counterparts, there seems to be a lack of health and educational means to assist them.  For example, in 2004 nearly thirty percent of deaths in Australia were due to cancer; however seventeen percent of these deaths were of our indigenous population (Jagadish, 2006).  In Australia deaths from something like lung cancer is nearly four percent higher in the Aboriginal population (Jagadish, 2006).  As seventy percent of indigenous Australians live in rural areas it leads one to believe whether our health system is merely ignoring Australians in rural areas or just the small Aboriginal towns they crudely named reserves (Jagadish, 2006).

Australia has quite a substantial public education system, however looking at statistics gathered in 2006; only around four percent of Aboriginals hold a degree of some kind, while non-indigenous Australians are at twenty-nine percent; this is a massive twenty-five percent gap (Mitrou et al., 2014).  This is quite a concern; however, what is more concerning is the lack of accommodation to a difference in learning techniques.  As anyone who has been in education, teaching or learning, we know there is different learning styles, some people are visual learners, some people learn from reading and others are hands on learners.  The Australian education system already fails most people in this area insisting all students learn by reading, studying and listening, a technique that is not particularly useful to most people and as a result in order to achieve some form of passing mark students have to relearn… how to learn… (Hooley, 2011).  These types of learning needs to be incorporated into all curriculum; personal experience and a difference in culture is embraced in schools, however barely any of a student’s historical curriculum is focused on the Aboriginal culture, and in some schools not at all, this is alienating for indigenous students and often the invasion by the British is romanticized (Hughes & Hughes, 2012). Although the government launched a plan to ‘bridge the gap’ in 2008, they have done little to actually achieve anything, while they claimed the plan would significantly reduce the gap within ten years, little appears to have changed and they now only have a short three years until the plan is revisited, and the results do not look promising (Hughes & Hughes, 2012).

Australia is a well developed country and so poverty should be a thing of the past, right? Wrong!  It is quite amazing how very large the gap between wealthy Australians and everyone else.  During a survey performed in 1973 it was discovered that fifty-one percent of Australians lived in poverty (Kaim-Caudle, 1976).  In today’s environment Australians should no longer see this sort of disturbing statistics, however, in a study done in late 2014, it showed that one in seven Australians lived in poverty, this has risen since 2012 (Knott, 2014).  A study done in April of this year shows that one million Australians are living below the poverty line (Ireland, 2015).  While the unemployment rate dropped by 0.2 percent this year there are still 11,759,000 people unemployed in Australia, leaving the unemployment rate at six percent (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2015).  These figures are quite worrying considering Australia is supposed to be a ‘developed’ country.  Not only this, our homeless rate is 0.5 percent, while this is not as high as other countries like America, we have a much smaller population, which staggeringly means that forty-nine people out of every ten thousand is homeless (Homelessness Australia, 2011).  The figures in this case share the quite disturbing reality that poverty is still a current issue that needs desperate attention within our government.

So are the concerns of inequality and poverty still a concern today in Australia? The simple answer is yes, most definitely.  While the fat cats in parliament are concerned with how much debt they are digging themselves into, cutting funds to health, education and many other essentials of the Australian people, focusing on trivial matters and issues that are not of any concern to the sustainability of the human condition, the little people, average joes like you and I, are suffering.  Joe Hockey’s answer? “Get a good job that pays good money”.  To you sir, I say, not good enough, simply not good enough.


Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2015). Australia’s Unemployment Rate. Retrieved from http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/latestProducts/6202.0Media%20Release1May%202015

Homelessness Australia. (2011). Homelessness Statistics. Retrieved from http://www.homelessnessaustralia.org.au/index.php/about-homelessness/homeless-statistics

Hooley, N. (2011). The Nation’s Shame: A Racist Education System which excludes Indigenous Children. Retrieved from http://theconversation.com/the-nations-shame-a-racist-education-system-which-excludes-indigenous-children-3913

Hughes & Hughes. (2012). Poor Education is Letting Indigenous Children Down. Retrieved from http://www.abc.net.au/news/2012-07-06/hughes-and-hughes-indigenous-learning/4112432

Ireland, J. (2015). One Million Australians Living in Poverty – It’s Just Not Good Enough. Retrieved from http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-opinion/one-million-australians-living-in-poverty–its-just-not-good-enough-20150421-1mple6.html

Jagadish, U. (2006). Cancer in Indigenous Australia: a symptom of inequality. Cancer forum, 30(3), 212-215.

Kaim-Caudle, P.R. (1976). Poverty in Australia. Journal of Social Policy, 5, 401-406.

Knott, M. (2014).  One in Seven Australians living in Poverty. Retrieved from http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/one-in-seven-australians-living-in-poverty-according-to-new-report-20141011-114o1b.html

Lavelle, A. (2015). Lecture 4: federalism and the constitution [iLecture]. Retrieved from http://ilearn.mq.edu.au/blocks/echo360_echocenter/echocenter_frame.php?id=20906

Mitrou, F., Cooke, M., Lawrence, D., Povah, D., Mobilia, E., Guimond, E., & Zubrick, S. (2014). Gaps in Indigenous Disadvantage Not Closing: a Census Cohort Study of Social Determinants of Health in Australia, Canada, and New Zealand from 1981–2006. BMC Public Health, 14, 201.

O’Lincoln, T. (1993). Years of Rage: Social Conflicts in the Fraser era. Melbourne: Bookmarks.

Sedghi, S. (2015).  Gender Pay Gap Hits an all Time High: Prompting Calls for Government Action. Retrieved from http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-02-27/gender-pay-gap-hits-record-high/6268084

Stokes, G. (2004). The “Australian Settlement” and Australian Political Thought. Australian Journal of Political Science, 39(1), 5-22.

Thompson, S. (2011). 1901 Immigration Restriction Act. Retrieved from http://www.migrationheritage.nsw.gov.au/exhibition/objectsthroughtime/immigration-restriction-act/

Ward, R. (1965).  A Concise History of Australia. St Lucia: University of Queensland Press.

Weinberg, G.L. (2008). A World at Arms: A Global History of World War II / Gerhard L. Weinberg (2nd ed.). New York: Cambridge University Press.

Creative Commons License
Political Wombat Syndrome: Inequality and Poverty in Modern Australia. by Sheridan Brownlie is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

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