No-one gets onto the Rich List without shafting a few people along the way so rather than blowing the trumpets of billionaires, Crikey is offering up an alternative to the BRW Rich List.

Crikey will be composing its own Rich List over time which will cast a more sceptical eye on how some of these people became so rich.

There’s an old adage that “You don’t get that rich without shafting a few people along the way”.

If you’ve been shafted by someone on the Rich List we want to hear from you.

To make the Rich List you have to have something special, be it government connections, a great product, first mover advantage, brilliant marketing or an ability to rip people off.

Anyway, for the time being let’s pick through a few names near the top of the Rich List and make a few observations about how they got there. After getting a taste for what we want it is over to you and send in your contributions to [email protected]

Kerry Packer: $8.2 billion

The master at waxing fat off government rents and using his power, influence and connections to build a fortune. Remember when taxpayers spent $600 million sticking satellites in the air through Aussat in the 1980s. Well, Kerry Packer’s Nine Network was one of the biggest beneficiaries but did not pay a cent for it.

KP preys on subservient politicians and is also the master at making bucketloads out of sport. Dopey associations that don’t know the true value of their product have for years sold the broadcasting rights to good ole Kerry for a fraction of what they worth.

Once Kezza became Australia’s richest man he used this status to bully his way into every lucrative start up on the ground floor. The culture in Sydney is such that the Big Man’s name alone can make your float fly so anyone with a decent idea goes cap in hand to Kerry. Just look at One.tel, Open Telecommunications and Looksmart.

The man who once shot at a prime ministerial chopper is also our most conspicuous consumer – something you can do when you manage your tax affairs brilliantly to keep it down around the 15 per cent mark.

Not only is Kezza rich, he is also a thoroughly decent god-fearing, loyal, happily married fellow.

We reckon the fortune is overstated by BRW and is really around $6 billion.

Frank Lowy: $2.8 billion

Crikey’s favourite billionaire. Frank is like Kerry in the way he lines up all those pressure points that get in the way of him and a buck. No one deals with the NSW Right more effectively than good ole Frank. Keating even stuck him on the Reserve Bank board and gave him his former top adviser Mark Ryan.

Frank he has had remarkable success over the years getting his way with government and councils where others have failed. You need this particular skill to big huge regional shopping centres.

As Australia’s second richest bloke, Frank just can’t get enough and still rips about 6 per cent of net profit out of Westfield Holdings each year as his salary, which came in at around $7 million last year. At least James Packer has the sensitivity not to draw a salary from PBL.

Speaking of upstreaming the profits, no-one does it better than Frank. The way he writes his own development contracts with the Westfield Trust, in which he has no financial interest but complete management control, is one of the best lurks going in corporate Australia. There’s $4.5 billion in development contracts currently flowing between the two and not an independent director to be seen representing Westfield Trust.

Always one to write out a cheque for a charity when it makes him look good, there is no-one in Australia who tries to manufacture public opinion like Frank.

Stooges speak in favour of controversial resolutions at his shareholder meetings, he paid Ken Hooper to create a bogus community group to campaign against a rival Sydney development and he cast Edna Carew aside from his writing his biography because he wanted control over the text and a fellow Jew to write it.

All that bile said, Crikey takes his hat off to Frank for what he has done in the US and now the UK. He’s one of our few true corporate heroes but just needs to share the profits around a bit more and be a little more transparent. And Frank, stop being the crankiest chairman in Australia when it comes to dealing with shareholders at your AGM.

BRW’s $2.8 billion estimate sound about right.

Dick Pratt $2.7 billion

John Elliott saved Dick’s bacon in the 1980s and now Dick has spent much of the 90s returning the favour as “Pigs Arse” continues to balls up most things he touches.

Pratt has a great paper and recycling business and very pretty mistress and love child. He’s also an expert at extracting government subsidies and no-one has had more former politicians on the payroll than Dick. Hawke, Keating, Hamer, Rob Jolly and John Button are just the start.

The Federal and NSW together kicked in about $40 million in subsidies last year to help this battler get his new pulp mill at Tumut up and running. Hell, he really needed the help.

There has been no bigger supporter of the Liberal Party, Swinburne Uni, Carlton Footy Club or the arts but now it seems Dick is withdrawing from public life to concentrate on his billions, his mistress, his family and his love child.

Paper is a very cyclical game so we reckon $2.7 billion sound a touch on the high side.

Harry Triguboff $1.2 billion

The least literate person on the Rich List. Slap em up Harry has never written a mistake-free letter in Crikey’s experience. But he’s a damn fast erector of high rise flats for the masses though and is tracking at about 24,000 units a year.

Harry has also mastered that key ingredient of property development – the successful planning submission. How he’s done that over the years is anyone’s guess but we can all rest assured that Sydney’s council’s are full of highly commercial people who now how to deal with someone like Harry.

Oh, Harry is also a big political donor too, because he believes in supporting the process of democracy.

We’d put him back closer to an even $1 billion.

John Gandel $1.1 billion

This billionaire would be nowhere but for Tricontinental (yep, Victorian taxpayers) lending him big dollars over the years. This is what former Tricon MD Ian Johns told journalist-turned spin doctor Hugo Armstrong about the quick approval given to Gandel in 1985 when he wanted to buy the huge Chadstone shopping centre from Myer.

“He actually had no money. But Myer were that desperate for cash, they were selling off their centres. All they wanted was an upfront cash payment, the rest was paid for through dividends.”

Come 1989 when interest rates were at 18 per cent and property prices were crashing, Armstrong suggests in his book on Tricontinental that it actually took over about $100 million in loans that Gandel had with other lenders.

Talk to the Lowys about there excessive management fees at Westfield and they always point to the 0.6 per cent of assets that Modest John rips out of the Gandel Trust each year. This is a good point because it gives John a fundamental conflict of interest to buy up big through the trust which he is dutifully doing in Brisbane at the moment.

Gandel also goes close to taking out the Crikey Biggest House award with his $30 million effort in Toorak which attracted the attention of kidnappers about three years back.

Naturally, the house is absolutely tasteful and suitably understated. Not.

BRW is probably overstating it a bit and we reckon he’s not quite a billionaire yet.

Kerry Stokes $900 million

Probably the biggest drinker on the rich list but a tough and ruthless businessman all the same. The Victorian-born orphan is one of the few genuine Australian rags to riches success stories.

After getting locked out of the Seven float in 1993 by that airhead Ivan Deveson, Stokes raided the register in 1995 and has progressively sold most his other assets off or to Seven, with the exception of the lucrative Westrac franchise in the West which keeps his personal cash flow ticking over.

We’d love to know how much Little Kerry’s three wives got in the settlements and also how much Seven shareholders are paying for the corporate overheads of his private business Australian Capital Equity.

Like Big Kerry, Little Kerry will benefit enormously from getting the digital spectrum for free from the media-sensitive Little Johnnies in Canberra. He has also benefitted from the AFL’s lifelong inability to extract fair value from selling its TV rights to Seven. Maybe next time.

He’s a good businessman but his debts with Westpac are still pretty big and we reckon his Little Kerry’s net worth is overstated by BRW by at least $200 million.

Solomon Lew $805 million

DON’T FORGOT YANNON. COLES MYER LOST $18M. WHO BENEFITED?

DON’T FORGOT YANNON. COLES MYER LOST $18M. WHO BENEFITED?

DON’T FORGOT YANNON. COLES MYER LOST $18M. WHO BENEFITED?

DON’T FORGOT YANNON. COLES MYER LOST $18M. WHO BENEFITED?

DON’T FORGOT YANNON. COLES MYER LOST $18M. WHO BENEFITED?

DON’T FORGOT YANNON. COLES MYER LOST $18M. WHO BENEFITED?

DON’T FORGOT YANNON. COLES MYER LOST $18M. WHO BENEFITED?

DON’T FORGOT YANNON. COLES MYER LOST $18M. WHO BENEFITED?

DON’T FORGOT YANNON. COLES MYER LOST $18M. WHO BENEFITED?

DON’T FORGOT YANNON. COLES MYER LOST $18M. WHO BENEFITED?

DON’T FORGOT YANNON. COLES MYER LOST $18M. WHO BENEFITED?

DON’T FORGOT YANNON. COLES MYER LOST $18M. WHO BENEFITED?

DON’T FORGOT YANNON. COLES MYER LOST $18M. WHO BENEFITED?

DON’T FORGOT YANNON. COLES MYER LOST $18M. WHO BENEFITED?

DON’T FORGOT YANNON. COLES MYER LOST $18M. WHO BENEFITED?

DON’T FORGOT YANNON. COLES MYER LOST $18M. WHO BENEFITED?

DON’T FORGOT YANNON. COLES MYER LOST $18M. WHO BENEFITED?

DON’T FORGOT YANNON. COLES MYER LOST $18M. WHO BENEFITED?

DON’T FORGOT YANNON. COLES MYER LOST $18M. WHO BENEFITED?

DON’T FORGOT YANNON. COLES MYER LOST $18M. WHO BENEFITED?

DON’T FORGOT YANNON. COLES MYER LOST $18M. WHO BENEFITED?

DON’T FORGOT YANNON. COLES MYER LOST $18M. WHO BENEFITED?

DON’T FORGOT YANNON. COLES MYER LOST $18M. WHO BENEFITED?

DON’T FORGOT YANNON. COLES MYER LOST $18M. WHO BENEFITED?

DON’T FORGOT YANNON. COLES MYER LOST $18M. WHO BENEFITED?

DON’T FORGOT YANNON. COLES MYER LOST $18M. WHO BENEFITED?

That’s all we’ve got time for this week but we are dead keen to build up our own comprehensive version of the Rich List over time.

Go out and buy a copy, pick someone on the list and send through your take on how they made their money. And there’ll be no BRW-style pissing in their pockets.

Peter Fray

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