Salaries of Rich Professions in Australia

Road to riches paved with good incisions

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Source: Australian Taxation Office, 2010-11.

How many surgeons does it take to earn a billion dollars? Surprisingly few, according to the latest tax figures. They reveal that just 3115 surgeons raked in taxable income of nearly $1.1 billion between them in 2010-11.

It would take four times as many train drivers, six times as many nurses and nine times as many hairdressers to earn that much.

That billion-dollar income pool was more than enough to make surgery Australia’s highest-paid occupation.


The average taxable income for surgeons was $350,383, up a handy $17,589 on the previous year. Anaesthetists were second on the top-earners list but they had to settle for almost $50,000 a year less than their colleagues holding the knife.


The tax data suggests that studying medicine still pays in Australia – specialist doctors (and dentists) accounted for six of the 10 best-paid occupations in 2010-11. Financial dealers, chief executives, managing directors, judges and mining engineers were also on the list.

The combined taxable incomes of Australia’s chief executives and managing directors jumped $2.5 billion to just under $20 billion in 2010-11, more than any other specific occupation identified by the Tax Office.

About 120,000 taxpayers call themselves chief executives and managing directors and because many of them run relatively small firms, their average taxable income was only $164,931 – a fraction of what the big banks and mining companies pay their chiefs. Another 172,000 people who identified themselves as “general managers” netted $18.4 billion between them.

Apprentices dominated the list of Australia’s lowest paid occupations with horticulture trainees last on the list with an average taxable income of $32,216. Apprentice tilers and textile workers were second and third from the bottom. Bar attendants and baristas might be popular with drinkers and coffee lovers but they had the 15th lowest taxable income ($37,928). That was less than hairdressers ($38,363), laundry workers ($39,185), service station attendants ($40,755) and waiters ($41,073).

The Tax Office identifies the total tax paid, and average taxable incomes, for about 450 separate occupations. The calculation of average taxable incomes includes full-time and part-time workers so they tend to be lower than measures of average full-time income.

Australia’s 12.6 million individual taxpayers declared income of $662 billion in 2010-11 and paid $133.1 billion in tax. The average taxable income was $51,342.

The figures for 2010-11 were released this week by the Tax Office. The tax on incomes earned each financial year is not calculated and paid until the following year and it then takes the Tax Office another year to process the data.

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