Is growing inequality threatening the health of the Australian economy and the cohesion of the nation’s society?

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten thinks so, and so does Professor Philip Alston. The UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights says the record levels of inequality in wealth and income seen around the world threaten the foundations of democracy along with many of the human rights that we take for granted.

Professor Alston will outline how extreme inequality and poverty violate human rights when he delivers a free public lecture on Thursday 10 August, presented by UNSW’s Australian Human Rights Centre (AHRCentre) and its Grand Challenge on Inequality.

Professor Alston, John Norton Pomeroy Professor of Law at New York University School of Law and co-Chair of the law school's Centre for Human Rights and Global Justice, says it is vital to acknowledge the threat that economic insecurity represents to human rights.

“There’s a clear right to be able to live in dignity, to enjoy a decent standard of living, to get access to education, health care and so on. All of these things are fundamentally linked to human rights and to see rights on the one side and poverty on the other is a big mistake,” he said in a recent interview. 

Professor Alston is an advocate for a universal basic income, describing it as “a bold and imaginative solution” at a time of growing economic insecurity, particularly as technological change and increasing automation result in lower wages and fewer jobs.

And he has challenged the human rights community to address and respond to the fundamental changes taking place in economic and social structures, saying it “has had all too little to offer in response to the profound challenges associated with deep economic insecurity”.

“There is a strong risk that when confronted with the challenge of addressing economic insecurity the human rights system will proceed in zombie mode,” he wrote in a recent report to the UN’s Human Rights Council. “It will keep marching straight ahead on the path mapped out long ago, even as the lifeblood drains out of the enterprise."

The Australian Human Rights Centre (AHRCentre), based within the UNSW Law faculty, aims to promote public awareness and academic scholarship about domestic and international human rights standards, laws and procedures through research projects, education programs and publications. For more information visit The AHRCentre Annual Lecture is sponsored by Maurice Blackburn and Professor Philip Alston is visiting Australia thanks to their generous support.

What: AHRCentre Annual Lecture

When: Thursday 10 August, 6.30-8pm

Where: G04, UNSW Law building, High Street, Kensington (enter via Gate 2)

Bookings: Tickets are free, register here


Clare Morgan