Australia’s 20 Highest-Paid Jobs, According to the ATO

Australia’s 20 Highest-Paid Jobs, According to the ATO
Image: Getty Images

A few weeks back, we chatted about which jobs saw the biggest pay increases across 2020. If you want a hint as to what the answer was, think digital. Today, however, we’re taking a peek at those gigs in Australia that rake in the most cash, according to the Australian Tax Office (ATO). As you will likely assume, there are some interesting trends in those big money-making roles.

For the lucky ones among us, a decent salary is second to work enjoyment. For the rest, a good salary is truly the only motivator for getting through the grind. If you’re looking to see how you fare compared to others, the ATO’s released figures for the 20 highest-paid jobs in Australia.

The ATO released datasets back in July, showing figures relating to the 2017–18 financial year. Among them is a list of the highest-paid occupations for that year by median wage.

The median wage is the middle figure, not the average, in a dataset. That means if three salaries are presented — $25,000, $30,000 and $50,000 — the median salary would be $30,000. With that said, the data also highlights how many individuals were in that profession in the 2017–18 financial year too.

At the top of the list were anesthetists, with just over 3,000 Australians earning a median wage of $385,242. The only other profession to occupy the $300,000 salary field were surgeons with a median salary of $320,186.

ato highest-paid salaries
Image: ATO

Other medical professions made an appearance with internal medicine specialists and psychiatrists taking out the third and fourth spots while the ambiguous ‘other medical practitioners’ took out seventh place with a median income of $149,548. It’s not clear what roles are included in the ‘other medical practitioners’ data. General practitioners and dentists also appeared in case you needed a reminder that medical roles tend to pay the big bucks.

Outside of the cashed-up medical professionals of Australia, engineers appeared to be some of the highest-paid in 2017-2018. Mining engineers took fourth place, earning a median salary of $156,126 with engineering managers taking home around $135,164. At the bottom of the list, still within the top 20 however, were electrical engineers and another ambiguous category — ‘engineers – type not specified’. Both earned just over $110,000 each.

Perhaps the most surprising of the entries was the humble school principal who took out the middle spot of the ranking with a $124,275 median income — more than general practitioners and dentists. Tram or train drivers trailed just marginally with a median of $118,333.

The opposite end of the ATO’s data offered a few surprises but made it no less dire. Fast-food cooks, of which there were a reported 51,140 in Australia, made a median income of $15,782 — the lowest for the year.

ato highest-paid lowest-paid salaries
Image: ATO

Café workers, which the ATO registered were over 42,000 for that year, earned a median salary of $21,567. They were beaten out by kitchen hands and checkout operators or office cashiers, who earned a median income of $22,621 and $22,966 respectively.

The 20 lowest-paid occupations were recorded by 3,458,769 million Australians while the top 20 highest-paid occupations registered just 331,420. There were 3,334 anaesthetists earning about $385,242 while 51,410 fast cooks earned a median salary of $15,782.

So, if you want to earn some serious money, best work your way towards a gig in the medical division. Sounds simple, yeah?

This article has been updated since its original publish date.


  • They always publish median figures, the usefulness of which is limited.

    Medians skew the list towards jobs in which all persons who categorise themselves the same way earn solid money, with no low outliers. You will note there are no lawyers on the list for example. This is because all lawyers – from very junior to very senior – are just categorised as “lawyers” and this makes the median relatively low (because junior lawyers don’t earn very much).

    But anaesthetists or school principals are all at the top of their profession by definition so they skew high. Junior people on their way to being an anaesthetist or . principal are categorised as “doctors” or “teachers” so the much lower pay they receive doesn’t drag the median down.

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