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The wealth of the seven richest people in Australia is greater than the nation's bottom 1.73 million households combined, and policies in the federal government's budget will only make that gap grow larger, the Australia Institute has warned.
Australian Bureau of Statistics data shows the bottom 20 per cent of households own roughly $54 billion in wealth. The most recent BRW Rich List shows the seven richest people in the country own more than $56 billion in accumulated wealth.
They are Gina Rinehart (estimated wealth of $22 billion), Frank Lowy ($6.9 billion), James Packer ($6 billion), Anthony Pratt & Family ($5.6 billion), Ivan Glasenberg ($5.6 billion), Harry Triguboff ($4.95 billion) and Wing Mau Hui ($4.82 billion).
The Australia Institute's paper, Income and Wealth Inequality in Australia shows how policy decisions in Australia - such as the reduction in the top marginal income tax rate over time - have contributed to an increase in wealth of Australia's richest individuals, and widened the disparity between wealth and incomes in Australia.
It says the gap between the richest and the poorest households will grow if government payments to low-income families are reduced further in this budget.
The paper shows in the past eight years the cost of tax cuts introduced by Labor and Liberal governments have been about $170 billion, with the top 10 per cent of earners receiving more benefits from those tax cuts than the bottom 80 per cent of taxpayers.
A recent survey by the Australia Institute found that most Australians are unaware of the extent of inequality, with the majority of people believing the ''average income'' in this country is similar to their own personal income.
People who earn between $20,000 and $40,000 a year believe the average Australian earns the same. The same goes for Australians who earn between $100,000 and $150,000 a year.
The decision by Treasurer Joe Hockey to index the age pension against the CPI, rather than male total average weekly earnings, will lead to age pensioners' incomes falling further behind community standards, it shows.
It comes as Nobel-prize laureate economist Joseph Stiglitz warns about the consequences of a global rise in inequality.
Professor Stiglitz will talk in Sydney Town Hall on Tuesday night about the ''Price of Inequality''. He warned last week that political decisions were to blame for the enormous growth in wealth and income at the top of the income distribution in the United States, and for the falling living standards in the middle and lower bands.
Dr Richard Denniss, the Australia Institute's executive director, says the Abbott government's decision in this budget to make welfare payments grow at a slower rate than wages will ''inevitably'' lead to a bigger gap between rich and poor.
He says a recent survey found more than 80 per cent of Australians want the level of social services in Australia to remain as they are or to be increased, ''even if increases mean additional taxation.''
Clive Palmer, told the National Press Club on Monday that he would not support the Abbott government's $7 GP co-payment because it would reduce the real incomes of pensioners and the poor.
''I didn't get elected to Parliament to take someone's chocolate or coffee off them, as simple as that mate, and it won't be happening.''
The story Wealth of seven richest Australians exceeds that of 1.73 million households first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.