References to wealth inequality reaching its peak in 2017-18 were removed from an Australian Bureau of Statistics press release to help craft a “good media story”, according to internal documents, The Guardian reports.
The emails and drafts show the ABS issued a separate income inequality media release in July to create a narrative of “stable” inequality despite wealth inequality on the rise, with one email noting the ABS did not want to “draw attention” to a bad result for the poorest households.
A spokesman for the ABS has denied any interference by the Morrison government or the suggestion it sought to misrepresent data, which was all strictly factual, arguing media releases “aim to showcase key findings” with journalists free to draw their own conclusions from other data.
On 12 July the ABS published two media releases titled “Inequality stable since 2013–14” and “Average household wealth tops $1 million” which copped criticism for failing to explain that the richest 20% of households have got substantially richer over time.
In the first release the ABS acknowledged that “there was a marginal increase in wealth inequality in 2017–18 and that wealth continues to be less equally distributed between households than income amongst Australians”.
An email on 26 June notes that the lowest quintile has seen “a significant change” from 2015-16 to 2017-18, down from 0.8% of all household wealth to 0.7%, or an average of $37,900 per household down to $35,200. Its unidentified author notes: “I’m not sure that we want to draw attention to this though.”
The phrase “the lowest 20% controlled less than 1 per cent of all household wealth, with average wealth currently at $35,200” was retained in the final release, without noting the deterioration.
The final release also notes “the wealthiest 20% of households still held over 60% of all household wealth, now averaging $3.2 million per household” without noting the growth over time from $1.9 million in 2003-4.
Australian Bureau of Statistics