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Jun 27, 2014

BRW Rich List: Rinehart, Palmer's fortunes fall, but Fairfax falls the most

The Rich 200 List used to be a must-read for those interested in the rich and (sometimes) famous. But Fairfax's slimmed-down effort now offers very little detail.

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Having killed off its loss-making Business Review Weekly magazine, Fairfax Media has sensibly preserved its most popular and valuable editorial feature, the annual Rich List. It will probably be better read this year, having been inserted inside The AFR’s monthly magazine today. However, the product is not as comprehensive as the halcyon days as recently as 2008, when the Rich List flagship edition was a healthy 220 pages and was sold separately on newsstands for a couple of months at $9.95 a piece.

In 2008 we got lots of data, including tables, listing Rich Listers’ peak year and the length of time they’d been on the list. Historically there have rankings by wealth (see the top 200 individuals on page 4), along with an alphabetical list and a separate section on wealthy families.

This year it is only the former, and the slimmed-down 36-page Rich List insert is found inside the 76-page AFR Magazine. For just $3.50, you also collect a 48-page edition of the paper along with the 40-page Domain and 16-page Life and Leisure lift-outs.

All up, that’s 216 pages, with the greatest number of full-page advertisements, 26, in The AFR Magazine. There were only seven pages of ads in the 36-page Rich List lift-out, which featured a very formulaic 27 pages of 100-word summaries of the richest 200 individuals.

Most had head shots, and the 13 feature photos comprised mainly old white blokes. Gone is the whole separate section listing wealthy families. The Myer and Smorgon families are still worth a few billion between them, but you wouldn’t know that reading this half-baked Rich List.

As for the content, the main feature article in The AFR Magazine was an interesting puff piece by editor Katrina Strickland about how much more billionaires are giving away.

Andrew “Twiggy” Forrest, who gets a nice full-page photo in the main magazine with wife Nicola, reckons he’s now given away “well north” of $300 million and it would be “child abuse” to let his kids inherit his estimated $5.86 billion fortune.

There is no mention of the tax deductions that come with his philanthropy, or that this wealth has been entirely extracted from publicly owned minerals in the ground of Western Australia’s Pilbara region.

Indeed, as the resource-rich state of WA grapples with gross borrowings that have rocketed past $35 billion, it is ironic indeed that Perth resident Gina Rinehart has, according to Fairfax, amassed a pile worth $20.01 billion, to be precise.

We don’t know if that is overstated, especially with the iron ore price under pressure. Rinehart also delivered hundreds of millions to 91-year-old Stan Perron ($2.73 billion) last year after settling his claim that he was always entitled to 15% of those Hancock and Wright family iron ore royalties dating back to 1959. She’s also dropped plenty on Fairfax and Channel Ten, and two of her children are in court trying to seize 25% of her fortune.

In news that won’t surprise her children, Rinehart is not mentioned anywhere in the philanthropy piece, which includes the very disturbing Tax Office stat that 40% of those people who declared income above $1 million in 2011-12 did not claim a single dollar in tax deductions for charitable donations.

The Lowy family reckon they have given away about $350 million over the past decade, which is close to the same figure they’ve extracted in salaries out of various Westfield entities since the Sydney Olympics. It would be interesting to know whether the $15 million-plus the Lowys have directed to politicians and political parties in Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom over the years is included in that gifting estimate, as there is certainly no compulsion to make political donations.

The Lowys are interesting in that last year’s $664 million sale of their stake in Westfield Trust meant that for the first time they have a majority of their estimated $7.16 billion net worth outside of Westfield. There is very little visibility as to where this circa $4 billion is invested and Fairfax’s 2014 Rich List provides no new insights with its six-sentence once-over-lightly approach.

Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of the 2014 Rich List was the complete failure to examine Clive Palmer’s wealth. This is the question everyone wants answered, but Fairfax bumped him down from $2.2 billion to $1.22 billion and then served up a few sentences that could be summarised as “problems at Sino Iron, rising nickel price is good news”.

The likes of James Packer ($7.19 billion), Andrew Forrest, the late Paul Ramsay, Rupert Murdoch (not valued), Kerr Neilson ($3.35 billion), Kerry Stokes (2.22 billion) and Gerry Harvey ($1.55 billion) still have a majority of their wealth tied up in listed companies.

So do Melbourne’s low-profile Wilson family, owners of more than 70% of listed plumbing powerhouse Reece Australia, which is capitalised at $3 billion. But because they are family, they are not mentioned anywhere.

Not good enough, Fairfax. The cuts have clearly gone too far on this particular editorial project.

Stephen Mayne — Journalist and Founder

Stephen Mayne

Journalist and Founder

Stephen Mayne founded Crikey in February 2000, and has remained as a contributor since selling it in 2005. He’s currently a City of Melbourne councillor, shareholder advocate and broad campaigner for transparency and accountability across the media, business and political sectors.

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