PRIME Minister Tony Abbott is well-known for parading around in his budgie smugglers.

Now he has convinced other world leaders to get into the spirit - all donning Australia's red and yellow lifesaving garb.

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, British Prime Minister David Cameron, US President Barack Obama, Chinese President Xi Jinping, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and South African President Jacob Zuma took time out from their G20 responsibilities to save people from drowning.

In the stunt for international aid and development agency Oxfam today, the political leader 'big heads' dressed as lifeguards at South Bank in an effort to draw G20 leaders' attention to the power they have to tackle "the rising tide of inequality".

Oxfam chief Helen Szoke said it was vital the G20 meeting in Brisbane this weekend placed inequality squarely on the agenda.

"The rising tide of inequality is a critical issue not only affecting the world's poorest nations, but almost all G20 countries as well," she said. "Getting people to South Bank dressed up as our world leaders in lifeguard costumes is a light-hearted way of making a very serious point."

Oxfam revealed in January that 85 of the world's richest people held as much wealth as the poorest half of the world's population.

Ms Szoke said this could result in enormous social and economic consequences.

"G20 countries are home to more than half the world's poorest people - the G20 leaders need to heed the warnings and acknowledge that inequality derails work to end poverty and seriously threatens economic growth and stability," she said.

"As leaders of major economies, they have the power to turn back the tide."

Australian Treasurer Joe Hockey labelled multinational companies, which avoid paying tax, as thieves whose actions worsen inequality and made it harder to fix poverty.

Mr Hockey said in Brisbane on Thursday that the G20 summit would focus on ensuring companies paid the right taxes.

"It's hugely important for the globe that companies pay tax on their profits," he said.

"It is theft when someone does not pay the tax due to the nation.

"It undermines the ability of that nation to be able to deliver the sorts of services that are essential to alleviate poverty."

Oxfam welcomed Mr Hockey's comments on the need to crack down on tax dodging.

Dr Szoke called on the G20 to address inequality by finishing the job of clamping down on multinationals' tax dodging and going beyond the global tax reform underway to fully include developing countries in decision making and broadening the scope of tax negotiations so that all countries benefit.

"Oxfam calculates that poor countries miss out on US $100b each year because of corporate tax avoidance," she said.

"The gap between the rich and the poor is extreme and growing. Since the financial crisis, the number of billionaires has more than doubled. During the same period, more than a million mothers have died in childbirth for want of decent health services," she said.

"G20 Leaders meeting in Brisbane need to tackle rising inequality head on or risk leaving millions of people trapped in poverty."



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