While millions of Australians struggle to make ends meet during the COVID-19 pandemic, the nation’s billionaires have pocketed $205 million a day.

Anti-poverty charity Oxfam has run the numbers and found Australia’s 47 billionaires doubled their collective net worth to $255 billion over the first two years of the crisis.

Those men and women, who count business magnates Gina Rinehart, James Packer and Frank Lowy among them, now hold more wealth than the poorest 30 per cent of Australians, which equates to about 7.7 million people.

The findings from the Oxfam report, released on Monday, were mirrored on a global scale, with the world’s ten richest men also more than doubling their fortunes to $1.9 trillion.

Broader still, the 2755 billionaires across the globe have grown their fortunes more in the past two years than the previous 14 in total.

“This is the biggest annual increase in billionaire wealth since records began. It is taking place on every continent,” the Inequality Kills report reads.

Their soaring wealth has been attributed to skyrocketing stock market prices, a boom in unregulated entities, rising monopoly power and privatisation, on top of the erosion of individual corporate tax rates and regulations as well as workers’ rights and wages.

Oxfam Australia chief executive Lyn Morgain said billionaires have enjoyed a “terrific pandemic”.

“Central banks have pumped trillions of dollars into financial markets to save the economy, yet much of that has ended up lining the pockets of billionaires riding a stock market boom,” she said.

The stark inequality has real-world consequences, with the report conservatively estimating it is contributing to at least 21,300 deaths each day, or one person every four seconds.

In Australia and the United Kingdom, specifically, poor people and those from low-socio economic areas were nearly 2.6 to four times more likely to die from COVID-19 than the richest members of society.

The charity describes the trends as “alarming” and lays blame at the feet of governments for allowing the “conditions for the COVID-19 virus to dangerously mutate”.

“At the same time, they have also created the conditions for an entirely new variant of billionaire wealth. This variant, the billionaire variant, is profoundly dangerous for our world,” it said.

The rapid spread of the Omicron strain across the globe after first being detected in South Africa has also shown the deadly consequences of lingering inequality, Ms Morgain argues.

Oxfam has called for all governments to immediately tax gains made by the super-rich during the pandemic, invest in evidence-based policies to save lives, and rewrite the rules within their economies.

“It’s time for the Australian government to take this issue seriously and take action to close the gap between the rich and poor,” Ms Morgain said.


Callum Godde
(Australian Associated Press)