This morning’s confirmed death of Brian Ray, number-one ticket holder in the Queensland white shoe brigade, comes at a time when decades of controversy were largely behind him and serious money was being made on the Tweed, the Victorian ski fields and through the recent purchase of Christopher Skase’s two Mirage resorts.

In what is the most dramatic death of a BRW Rich Lister, Ray’s light plane went down in fog on Friday as he flew to the Victorian ski resort of Mt Hotham to inspect his $500 million retail and residential development joint venture with MFS. The three bodies were recovered this morning.

John Singleton and Kerry Packer have long been mates with Ray, whose record on political interference and controversial dealings is unparalleled for an Australian property developer, with the possible exception of Frank Lowy.

The national media hasn’t yet captured the importance of Ray’s role in a succession of controversies over the past 30 years, but The Courier-Mail’s business editor Paul Syvret did an excellent job with this piece on Saturday. Try these scandals for size:

  • Conceived and helped bankroll the “Joh for Canberra” push in 1987 along with the late Mike Gore.
  • Beat Commonwealth tax fraud charges in 1987.
  • Big player in Costigan Royal Commission after delivering $225,000 in cash to Kerry Packer in 1980 when supposedly almost bankrupt.
  • Contributed to the secret backing of Ron Clarke by a group of developers in the last Gold Coast council elections.
  • Gifted Hawke government tourism minister John Brown a $1 million Gold Coast apartment.
  • Big donor on the Tweed whose council was recently sacked. Check out this Four Corners report on the Tweed from July 2003 which included this interesting exchange about Kerry Packer’s green credentials:

REPORTER: Brian Ray even convinced his mate Kerry Packer to fund Koala Beach with him. This was OK until they realised that the environmental restrictions so good for koalas were lousy for developers wanting to sell land. When things were going bad initially, what did your partner Kerry Packer think of that?

BRIAN RAY: Well, he would just want to know why it wasn’t selling better. But I must say this, though – if I had ever discussed at any length with Kerry Packer about these environmental overlays, I’m sure he would have been the very first person to support them. He is quite an environmentalist himself.

At one level it was surprising Ray remained mates with Packer after the embarrassment of the Costigan Royal Commission when Kerry Packer offered up the following explanation about why Ray should give him $225,000 in cash:

My recollection of it is that we were talking on the telephone… and he made the remark: ‘How are things going?’ I think I said: ‘Well, it has not been a good week.’ ‘What is wrong?’ I said. ‘ I lost too much at the races’ or whatever it was. He said: ‘Do you want some money?’ I said: ‘Have you got any?’ He said: ‘Yes, I have got a bit.’ I said: ‘Have you got any to spare.’ He said: ‘I certainly have.’

Douglas Meagher later queried Packer about why he wanted Ray’s generous contribution in cash? “Because I like cash. I have a squirrel mentality. I like to money in cash. It is by no means the most cash I have ever had in my life.”

A rich and colourful life indeed.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey