Australia is a rich country in many aspects. Per capita income is high, as is the average life expectancy and educational level. International comparisons of living standards such as the United Nations Human Development Index (HDI) place Australia among the world’s top nations. Visit AbbreviationFinder to see the definitions of AUS and acronym for Australia.
However, welfare is relatively unevenly distributed and in recent decades the differences between poor and rich have increased. In 2012, just over 12% of Australians lived below the national poverty line. There are no major differences between different states or between big cities and other areas. However, there are clear differences between different categories of households. The largest proportion is poor among young unemployed, among the disabled and in single-parent households and in the indigenous population. The cost of living has increased significantly more than the various forms of social assistance. Unemployment is just over 5% (2013), which is an internationally low figure. However, it hides an increased proportion of part-time workers.
Trade unions were formed early in Australia. Thanks to the shortage of labor, they gained a strong position. Traditionally, trade unions have been negative towards immigration of non-European labor. By the beginning of the post-war period, workers had achieved internationally good working conditions and high wages, and in the mid-1970s, more than half of the workers were unionized.
In the 1980s, a reform of business was initiated. Gradual liberalization led to increased flexibility in the labor market but greater uncertainty for the employees. The pressure on the union increased further during the Conservative government period 1996-2007. In 2006, the degree of employee organization was down to only 20%. Then a new regulatory framework was introduced which This meant that individual agreements could be concluded between employees and employers. The eroded employment protection, and overtime and holiday pay were no longer self-evident. The strike right also deteriorated. The new labor laws were met by large counter-demonstrations across the country. Criticism also came from outside, e.g. from the ILO, as the changes broke with global conventions.Fair Work Act, which meant stronger financial protection for workers. Almost all trade unions in Australia are members of the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU).
The foundation of the social insurance system was laid at the beginning of the 1900s with income-tested pensions and sickness benefits, unemployment benefits, disability benefits and the like. The design differed between the states. However, in the early 1990s, social benefits were lower and more uncertain than in other rich industrial states, with the exception of the United States. In 2011, the first national parental insurance was introduced. Generally, it gives all mothers the right to take out one year of unpaid parental leave before the child turns one year. In addition, they receive income-tested parental benefit for a maximum of 18 weeks. The support corresponds to the minimum wage in the country. In 2013, this was extended by two weeks of paternity leave. There is no general child allowance, but families with children up to the age of 18 receive tax relief.
Grants are paid to young people who are studying or have not yet entered the labor market, and to those who have become unemployed and actively seeking work, unemployment benefits are paid.
The retirement age has been 65 years for men in recent years. For women, it has gradually increased from 60 years and was in 2013 at 64.5 years. A continued incremental increase to 67 for all has been decided and will start in 2017. The size of the pension depends on income and financial assets.
Healthcare and health insurance
In Australia, there is both public free health care and private health care. The public healthcare system Medicare was introduced in 1984 and functions much like Swedish county council care. It provides free care in public hospitals and reimburses most of the costs of visits to public outpatient care. In addition, Medicare subsidizes most of the costs of private care. However, the individual has to pay for dental care, medical transport, some specialist consultations and treatment in some accidents. It is therefore common to have your own health insurance as a supplement to Medicare, especially if you want private health care. One third of the hospital’s capacity is in private healthcare.
The availability of doctors and beds corresponds to that found in other OECD countries. Already in the late 1920s, aircraft began to be used to reach out to health care in the most remote settlements. In 2012, the non-profit organization Flying Doctors had sixty aircraft flying from 21 bases.
The pattern of disease in Australia is similar to that which has emerged in other rich countries, and an increasing proportion of the diseases are a consequence of the lifestyle. Among other things, Type 2 diabetes has risen sharply and cardiovascular disease has become an increasingly common cause of death. Nevertheless, the average life expectancy is among the highest in the world.
In the Australian colonies, women gradually gained a relatively strong position. From 1894, the colony of South Australia was the first political entity in the world to have female suffrage. In the new federal state Australia came a similar law in 1902, and after that New Zealand became the second country in the world with female suffrage. In both cases, however, the right to vote only applied to the white population.
A law from 1984 prohibits discrimination in working life on the basis of gender, race, origin and ethnic background. Many women have also been given improved conditions through the addition of social legislation. In the field of education, women and men have come pretty much the same way. During the 2000s, however, changes in working life have contributed to the development in the area of gender equality stopping and in some respects declining. A larger proportion of women working part-time have meant that women’s average salary is only two-thirds of men’s (2007). Women are also significantly underrepresented among senior executives. In 2010, however, Australia got its first female prime minister, Julia Gillard.
A national legal framework against discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity is missing. Most Australians say they support same-sex marriage, but it has been a very controversial topic in Parliament. In 2017, same-sex marriage was legalized. LGBT issues are openly debated and the annual Pride Festival in Sydney is one of the largest in the world. Laws on adoption, assisted reproduction and the like differ between the states.
Crime and punishment
The death penalty has been abolished in all states and territories. The crime pattern in Australia is similar to other rich countries in most respects. Trafficking in women is prohibited by law, but occurs relatively often, especially in Aboriginal families. Prostitution and brothel activities are permitted and regulated in several states.
Indigenous living conditions
Aborigines are broadly distributed across the continent as the population as a whole. However, the proportion is greater in northern and central Australia. In the sparsely populated Northern Territory, they make up about 30% of the population. They live to a lesser extent in the largest cities and to a greater extent in smaller and medium-sized towns. More than a quarter live in areas that are officially referred to as remote and very remote. This is an important explanation for having significantly less access to many forms of community service. The quality of education and health care is consistently poor and preventive health care is often lacking in such areas.
Aboriginal living conditions are generally much worse than the rest of the population. The average life expectancy is 17 years lower, the maternal and infant mortality is three times higher and the level of education is lower. Over the past fifteen years, unemployment has been around 20%, and the proportion of homeless people is significantly higher than among other residents. Aborigines make up 2.3% of the total population but 25% of those in prison. They are under-represented politically and thus have little opportunity to participate in decisions that affect their situation, their property and cultural heritage. Only in 2010 was the first Aboriginal elected to the federal House of Representatives.
The Constitution of Australia was written in 1901 in a spirit that promoted the white population and at that time the indigenous people were not recognized as citizens. It was not until 1967 that they gained full citizenship and voting rights, and only then were they included in the country’s population statistics. Society’s efforts to assimilate the indigenous people failed. Social exclusion increased and the result was, among other things, alcoholism, suicide and increased crime. Over the past twenty years, the official attitude towards the indigenous population has improved and its status has been raised.
In 2008, then-Prime Minister Kevin Rudd made a national apology to the indigenous peoples and acknowledged that the state subjected them to human rights violations, for example when young children who were forcibly removed from their parents. The political parties now largely agree that the constitution must be cleared of remaining discriminatory clauses. Aborigines should also be recognized there as the country’s urinals. However, a referendum on such a change in 2013 has been postponed as the parties fear that the people as a whole do not yet want to support such a proposal.