“Rich get richer, poor get prison” in the ‘Lucky Country’

The economic growth of a nation should ideally be primarily based on the economic growth of its entire populace. However, studies have constantly shown that the people who are growing economically wealthy only make up a small percentile of Australia’s population leaving a vast majority battling with the daily struggles of income deprivation and its adverse consequences.


In fact, the Australian Council of Social Service[1] has identified that, 13.3% of Australia’s population equating to 2.99 million people live below the poverty line in comparison to Australia’s national baseline.


This means the 2.99 million people are having problems with housing, education, health, access to justice, even their liberty itself when charged with criminal offences.


More importantly, some people/groups make up more of this 2.99 million than others. Indigenous Australians have categorically been classified as suffering the most from the economic inequality, thus over-represented in the 2.99 million figures. As a senate report identified Indigenous Australia’s are one of the most poor and vulnerable people in Australia.[2]


Specifically, research has shown that Indigenous Australians receive less income per household than non-indigenous Australians. In fact, they are more likely to receive only state welfare income than other Australians.[3]


In turn, they are prone to suffer an array of discriminative racist treatment, health implications, housing problems and greater stressful family circumstances which often results with adverse contact with the criminal justice system.[4]


AND Indigenous Australians are likely to live less than their non-indigenous counterparts plus, more likely to suffer an array of physical and mental illness within their shorter life spans.[5]


A study in 2007, that included 183 Indigenous Australians showed that they are twice more likely to report higher rates of physical and mental health problems compared with the non-indigenous participants.[6] This applies also to indigenous children who are at a greater risk of mental health problems resulting from a lack of financial resources in their families.  


Consequently then, Indigenous people and non-indigenour people living below the poverty line are at greater risk  by their visibility and out of the necessity to ask for money/food and/or clothing food to transcend into the criminal justice system. As being homeless has many factors that may coincide to bring an individual to the attention of the police, such as dependence on illicit drugs, prostitution, excessive alcohol consumption and property offences. Even more troubling, is the statistics showing that homeless people are more likely to be found guilty and incarcerated than those who are not homeless.[8]


This also effects Indigenous youths also, as their street presence is also problematic and the disparaging of wealth in the ‘lucky country’ means they are more likely to be seen by the police. In fact, research shows that Indigenous youths are more likely to be approached by police, given an order of some kind, or arrested and charged.[9]


Therefore, interventions both at local and federal government levels need to address the disparity of wealth in Australia as an urgent priority, so as not to further the entrenched inequalities within our society.


This author believes a good start would be the implementation of adequate housing along with, a need to decriminalise the current begging offences in Australia, which are just imposing more hardship on those already suffering economic inequality by way of the imposition of fines. 

Next an address of the over-representation of Indigenous Australians as a matter of priority should be on the policital agenda. Specifically, the need to recognise the economic, cultural, and social disadvantages brought on by past colonies policies must be at the forefront of our criminal justice sentencing policies. AND not just by way of a race neutral approach to sentencing.

Furthermore, a need to follow the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody report (RCADIC) recommendation that police use their discretionary powers more effectively, especially when dealing with the young Indigenous population. In fact, the RCADIC went as far as to say the ‘police should not be so easily offended’ referring to the offensive language charges.   

Together with, a need to address the difficulties in accessing quality legal services for those suffering the adversities associated with economic inequalities.  

Finally, the concept of social justice should be a merited ideal policy shift, whereby all the members of a society are treated based not on the rigid concept of one-dimensional justice, but the substantive quality of justice as a whole with a view to evenly distribute Australia’s economic resources that encompasses the values and ideals of social justice, so the ‘lucky country’ may also be lucky for the original first Australians and all the people living below the 'lucky country's' poverty line.

[1] Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS) (2016, p.8).

[2] Ludlam, S., & Lawry, C. (2010). Closing the Justice GAP for Indigenous Australians. Indigenous Law Bulletin, 7(17), 12-16.

[3] Howlett, M., Gray, M., & Hunter, B. (2016). Wages, Government Payments and Other Income of Indigenous and Non-indigenous Australians. Australian Journal of Labour Economics, 19(2), 53-76.

[4] Holsinger, K., & Sexton, L. (2017). Toward justice: Broadening the study of criminal justice. New York, NY: Routledge.

[5] Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS). (2017). Recorded Crime - Offenders, 2015-16, Cat. no. 4519.0ABS, 2017; Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS). (2017). Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People with a Disability, 2012, Cat. no. 4433.0.55.005.  

[6] Larson et al. (2007). It's enough to make you sick: The impact of racism on the health of Aboriginal Australians. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health, 31(4), 322-329. (2007).

[7] Martin, W. (2017). A judge's view of homelessness [online]. Judicial Review: Selected Conference Papers: Journal of the Judicial Commission of New South Wales, 13(2).  

[8] Somers JM, et al. (2013) Housing First Reduces Re-offending among Formerly Homeless Adults with Mental Disorders: Results of a Randomized Controlled Trial. PLOS ONE 8(9): e72946.

[9] White, R. (2002). Indigenous Young Australians, Criminal Justice and Offensive Language. Journal of Youth Studies, 5(1), 21-34, p. 24).



Post Comment