You probably didn’t know that Richard Pratt once won a Morrish Medal – it’s a sort of Brownlow Medal for junior AFL footballers – and he won it playing for the under-18 Carlton footy team. It’s the sort of personal detail that Pratt and the Visy group will make sure everyone hears about in the coming months because a “schmooze offensive” is already underway with today’s press conference.
At 71 Pratt is not new to scandal – of any variety. But the ACCC investigation is the biggest challenge ever put in front of Pratt’s reputation. And reputation is what this “price fixing scandal” is all about. After all, it’s hardly money: Pratt’s a billionaire four times over – his personal wealth will probably exceed $5 billion in 2006. He’s about to hand the empire over to his family – his son Anthony and daughters Heloise and Fiona – and they will not want the family reputation tarnished.
The last time Pratt confronted this sort of humiliation he faced it down. Back in December 1993 he had his Christmas spoiled for the first time by regulators when the former National Crime Authority (NCA) raided Pratt company offices and seized documents (as part of an investigation into the so called “foreign exchange scandal” involving John Elliot and Elders.) On that occasion Pratt beat the regulators hands down – by 1994 Pratt had the NCA on the run – it was forced to pay costs associated with the case and the seized documents had to be returned.
Similarly when he had to deal with the fallout from the “mistress scandal” that broke in 2000 when it emerged that he had a mistress and another child outside the Pratt family, Pratt quickly rebuilt his reputation with the wider community through a range of community initiatives, most notably the $10 million per annum he gives to charity through the Pratt Foundation which makes him Australia’s most generous man.
Now facing an emboldened ACCC led by Graeme Samuel, Pratt will most likely follow a two-pronged strategy. First, fight the allegations at every level through the law, and then supplement the legal effort with a positive public relations offensive. It’s going to be a long battle and it won’t just be played in the courts.