OECD says Australia is the best, but…

Yesterday, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development launched an updated version of a report called Your Better Life Index. This report compares the performance of 36 countries using criteria such as life satisfaction, safety, health, housing, community and governance.

Rather than just accepting the media good-news story that Australia is on top, it’s worthwhile having a look under the covers to see if it’s really all good news.

So what does it say about Australia? Overall, Australia is in first place, followed by Norway, United States, Sweden, Denmark and Canada. Looking at some of the life topics, we rate well on many of them, including Civic Engagement, Community, and Health and Safety.

What is really interesting to me is that although we top the list in Civic Engagement we are a sad 31st in Work-life balance, ahead of only Israel, Korea, Japan, Turkey and Mexico.

Here’s what the OECD says about these topics for Australia:


Civic Engagement Voter turnout, a measure of public trust in government and of citizens’ participation in the political process, was 95% during recent elections; this figure is the highest in the OECD. The average is 73%.
Work-life balance Almost 14% of employees work very long hours, much higher than the OECD average of 9%, with 21% of men working very long hours compared with just 6% for women.

And here’s the reason I find it interesting: although we have a high participation in the political process we can’t get the work-life balance right. As the report says,

Evidence suggests that long work hours may impair personal health, jeopardize safety and increase stress.

So if we’re engaged in the political process why don’t we vote to fix this? What reasons could there be? Here are two:

  • we don’t care about working long hours or
  • there is no political party that wants to fix long working hours.

Thinking back, I can’t recall anyone ever saying they want to work long hours, so I can only conclude the problem is political. Over my voting life I’ve seen both major parties moving relentlessly to the right on the political spectrum. We’ve also seen the rich end of town, big business and the billionaires, interfering with the democratic process whenever our government has tried to do anything that smells like redistribution of wealth. The mining and gambling lobby groups are recent examples of heavily-funded anti-government advertising backed by supportive shock-jocks.

My view is that governments are now gun-shy. They have lost the will to do anything about the power imbalance between employee and employer other than fiddle around the edges. We bask in the limelight of being a financially successful country and accept that many families will continue to work long hours, will never have as many children as they would like and probably will never get to enjoy the relief of retirement.

And despite these long working hours, the gulf between the rich and poor grows. OECD again on Australia:

there is a considerable gap between the richest and poorest – the top 20% of the population earn five times as much as the bottom 20%

And Gina Rinehart, now the world’s richest woman, earning $598 a second or nearly $19billion last year, seems unwilling to share it with our country or even her children.

Here are Australia’s rankings by topic:

OECD “Your Better Life” Topic Australia’s Ranking out of 36 countries
Civic Engagement 1
Community 3
Health 3
Safety 5
Life Satisfaction 7
Housing 8
Jobs 8
Environment 9
Education 11
Income 15
Work-life balance 31


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