Battlers and Billionaires and Labor's Andrew Leigh
Australian publishers have shifted into high gear as this yearâ€™s federal elections loom closer. Rants and tracts, diatribes and manifestos â€“ political books are hitting shelves like bicameralism is going out of fashion.
This week, Avid Reader hosts the Brisbane launch of Andrew Leighâ€™s Battlers & Billionaires: The Story of Inequality in Australia. With wealth disparity once again on the rise, the lucky countryâ€™s famed (and therefore largely apocryphal) â€œfair goâ€ could be facing extinction.
Of course, thereâ€™s an obvious political agenda to any book from a sitting politician. Itâ€™s basically an old fashioned literary shot across the political spectrum â€“ and perhaps across the country, from beige Canberra to Queenslandâ€™s own billionaire-magnate, Clive Palmer.
But Leigh also wears another hat (square and black) as former professor of economics at Australian National University. Itâ€™s this academic bent he hopes will see the book transcend party politics, drawing focus to an issue neoliberalism was supposed to silence forever.
I braved ASIO for a short interview with federal Labor MP Andrew Leigh.
CD: Why is inequality on the rise in Australia?
Three big factors: technology and globalization raising the wages of superstars; reductions in top tax rates which help those at the top of the distribution; and decreases in union density.
CD: Whatâ€™s at stake if nothing is done to curb inequality?
Too much inequality is fundamentally at odds with the Australian egalitarian spirit â€“ calling one another mates, not tending to tip, sitting in the front seat of taxis, and not standing up when the prime minister enters the room.
If you ask people what their ideal distribution of wealth is, they say the top fifth should have about 24 per cent and the bottom fifth should have about 15 per cent. The reality is that the top fifth have 62 per cent and the bottom fifth have only one per cent of the total wealth.
CD: This is the first in a new series of â€œbig issueâ€ books from Melbourneâ€™s Black Inc Publishing. Â Can you tell me how you got involved in the project?
I pitched a quarterly essay to Black Inc; they didnâ€™t think this worked as a quarterly essay, but they wanted me to do it as a book. In retrospect Iâ€™m very glad they did. It works much better at 50-60,000 words than it would at 25,000 words.
CD: Given your background, is it difficult writing this type of book in an accessible way?
Thatâ€™s a big challenge â€“ tapping into the stories as well as the statistics.
CD: Do federal MPs actually have time to read books?
Yes, I think the travel demands of the job provide quite a lot of reading time for my colleagues. I represent a seat in the ACT so I do less travelling than probably any member of the federal parliament.
When I speak to my colleagues they say thatâ€™s one of the things they enjoy about having to fly a bit â€“ just being able to get through a lot of books.
What: Andrew Leigh launches Battlers and Billionaires: The Story of Inequality in Australia.
Where: Avid Reader, 193 Boundary Street West End
When: July 16, 2013 @ 5PM
How much: $7.50
Website: Avid Reader