Compiled by Crikey intern Elly Keating:
The Australian media has busied itself with pre-mortem obsequies for cardboard tycoon Richard Pratt, who at last report remained on his death bed in Melbourne.
Some, however, have been less than kind. This morning on Sydney’s 2UE, host Mike Carlton had this to say:
It’s a story that’s got everything, the Dick Pratt story.
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Born Ryszard Przecicki in Poland, a refugee from the Nazis, he grows up in Australia and builds a fortune said to be worth almost six billion dollars, mostly from cardboard packaging.
He becomes a leading figure in Melbourne high society with that ultimate Melbourne trophy, he’s president of the Carlton Football Club. Doesn’t come bigger than that in Melbourne.
He splashes millions of dollars on charity works, philanthropy and, indeed, political parties. He becomes the biggest to the Liberal Party, throwing more than a million dollars their way and he donates substantially to the Labor Party as well.
And Dick Pratt’s private life is just as interesting. He’s been married to his wife Jeanne for 47 years with three adult children, Anthony, Heloise and Fiona.
But in Sydney he keeps a mistress, attractive blonde socialite Shari-Lea Hitchcock and in 1997 she gives birth to his love child, Paula, who turns 12 this year, and apparently will inherit $20 million on his death, and a harbourside mansion.
And that’s what’s fascinating.
All the newspapers this morning, it’s all front page everywhere: who gets what, basically.
Meanwhile the Melbourne establishment is queuing up to say what a terrific bloke Dick Pratt is, all of them, you know, the usual suspects, Jeff Kennett, the trade union leader Bill Shorten, Carlton football players, Premier John Brumby comes out to say that Dick Pratt was a remarkable Australian, a stunning success story, all that, all of which is true but spare us the hypocrisy. He was also a crook.
He ran one of the crookest business operations in the country, a price fixing racket, a cartel in the packaging business which ripped off, cheated customers and companies out of about A$700 million.
So his philanthropy, his generosity, was with other people’s money. I mean, give me a break.
Eventually the ACCC got him, he was fined a record $36 million, forced to hand back his Order of Australia and, at the moment, as we speak, Dick Pratt is facing criminal charges alleging that he lied on oath about the price fixing scandal, charges which if proved could get him up to four years in jail, should he ever get to court.
So it’s just extraordinary the Victorian Premier should be spouting this nonsense about a truly great Australian. I mean, tell that to the banana growers up north that he ripped off by fixing the prices of the cardboard boxes they needed for their business. Some of them went broke trying to pay his exorbitant bills.
Dick Pratt is a convicted crook who built a reputation as a generous philanthropist with other people’s money.”
But Carlton seems to be alone in his pointed analysis. Elsewhere the tone was generally laudatory:
Today’s Herald Sun went to town:
“We regret to inform you that Richard Pratt’s health has deteriorated recently and he is now seriously ill,” the memo said. “Richard has asked us to thank everyone for their good wishes and support and to let you know that the best thing we can all do for him is to stick together, support our customers, support (Visy chief executive) John Murphy and the management team and work hard to make Visy an even greater success.” — Memo from Jeanne and Anthony Pratt in The Australian
Mr Pratt was a “great Victorian and a great Australian” despite his recent controversies. “He came to this country with not much (money) and made a lot of it and built a huge business”. — Victorian Premier John Brumby
Mr Fox, a friend of 44 years, said criminal action over price-fixing claims had taken its toll on the chairman of cardboard company Visy, especially as it had been instigated by a man who had been a guest in Mr Pratt’s home. “One person really betrayed him — somebody that ate at his house, enjoyed his company. That certainly added to this premature situation,” — fellow magnate and friend Lindsay Fox in The Age.
“He is a great Australian and it is terrible to see him gravely ill … I can’t claim to see into his mind and his morale at the moment and he is ill, (but) he has (been) a big contributor to public life.” — Federal Labor MP Bill Shorten
Pratt knew only too well the power of his wealth and was certainly not averse to using it to get his way. Any restricting “rules” — well, they were for others. – Terry McCrann in the Herald Sun
Mr Pratt was always dreaming of ways to create a better Victoria, a better Australia and a better world. The interests that Dick embraced, he embraced fully. Whether it was philanthropy, whether it was sport, and particularly Carlton. — Hawthorn President and Former Victorian Premier Jeff Kennett
“I certainly can’t imagine what the club would look like without Dick’s influence … I doubt I would be here as well.” — Carlton Captain Chris Judd
One of the most powerful and influential men in Australian history is close to death. Richard Pratt, known as the ‘Cardboard King’ and saviour of the Carlton Football Club, a man who confessed in recent years to price-fixing, a man loved – and in some areas probably feared. He is an extraordinary success story. — Neil Mitchell 3AW
As he prepares to leave Australia, and this life, Richard Pratt can reflect on the fact that he has enriched the nation that rescued him. If these matters can be so measured, he has repaid any debt.Pratt’s achievements are stunning. From a position of no background or contacts or connections, not even having English as a first language, he built a business empire and became a veritable tower of the establishment. — Daily Telegraph
Kernahan praised the billionaire businessman’s energy and generosity as the catalysts for “turning this club around”.”In 2007 he gave us hope when this club was on its knees and (there was) talk of insolvency and throwing the keys in. I was at board meetings where the board was thinking about throwing the keys in – it was that serious,” he said.”Everyone think it was about his money but those people don’t knock Richard Pratt. He loved this joint.” — Carlton Club President Stephen Kernahan in The Age.
Notwithstanding some of the things you might read about Richard Pratt in the coming days, the truth is that he is one of our greatest Australians, and not for taking over his father’s business and turning it into the great cardboard and recycling giant Visy. Pratt has been our most generous citizen. More importantly, he is no armchair philanthropist. Understanding that with great wealth comes responsibility, Pratt has always diligently overseen the projects his money underwrites — Alan Howe in the Herald Sun
And to give all this premature eulogising some perspective, there is this piece from June last year:
Pratt has admitted ripping off Australians for years to the tune of untold millions of dollars, but it seems that if you hand back a portion of the proceeds in a tax-deductible manner, you somehow become a philanthropist. — John Verrender in SMH