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The fair go is fact, not political platitude

By Benjamin Herscovitch - posted Thursday, 16 May 2013

With the controversy over the adequacy of unemployment benefits heating up again, the divide between the haves and the have nots has resurfaced this budget season.

The 2013 budget initiative to allow Newstart Allowance recipients to earn more before their government payments are docked has been decried as inadequate by the welfare lobby, the Greens, and Labor MPs, including Doug Cameron.

Having called the Newstart Allowance the 'antithesis of a fair go' in March, Cameron and others want it raised by $50 a week.


The chorus of support for increasing unemployment benefits is the most recent example of an underlying schizophrenia in the national psyche: Although we have long prided ourselves as a society that offers a fair go to all, many of us suspect the most vulnerable and disadvantaged members of the community miss out on the assistance they need.

Despite creeping doubts that Australia does not live up to the promise of a fair go, the numbers show the fair go is still more fact than fiction.

With the right combination of ambition and ability, success is open to Australians from any background, while Australia's dynamic meritocracy is one of the most socially mobile in the industrialised world.

With many of us rising from the proverbial rags to riches, the American dream is actually an Australian reality.

Approximately 12 per cent of sons born into the poorest 20 per cent of families make it to the wealthiest 20 per cent. Given that only 27 per cent of the sons from this bottom fifth stay there as adults, a full 73 per cent of sons from the poorest families are able to improve their lot in life and earn more than their fathers.

Australia's social escalator moves so quickly that the poorest Australians can find fortune in just a few years.


Between 2001 and 2009, more than 5.5 per cent of individuals from the poorest 20 per cent of the population entered the wealthiest 20 per cent.

This means that in the space of less than a decade, more than one twentieth of the poorest Australians became some of the wealthiest.

On top of massive movement up the earnings distribution, social mobility is also the norm rather than the exception when it comes to education and profession.

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About the Author

Dr Benjamin Herscovitch is a Beijing-based research fellow at the Centre for Independent Studies and previously worked for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Follow him on Twitter @B_Herscovitch.

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