Former founding chairman of eCorp and Microsoft executive Daniel Petre’s brilliant article in Crikey detailing the astonishing lack of Australian philanthropy among the wealthy was well overdue. But not only do Australia’s rich give away a relatively small proportion of their wealth — but when they do, the donations are often made in unusual circumstances by businessmen with chequered histories. Consider our seven richest people (from this year’s BRW Rich List).
Frank Lowy — One of Australia’s best-known philanthropists, who (together with fellow immigrant John Saunders) built Westfield into one of Australia’s greatest business success stories. But despite his lofty reputation for charity, Lowy’s public donations of $15 million each year amount to less than one half of one per cent of his net worth. Not only that, but much of the money he donates comes directly from Westfield shareholders who pay Lowy and his sons the extraordinary remuneration of $30 million annually to run the shopping centre developer — this is despite Westfield shares being about half their 2007 levels. Lowy conceded as much at the company’s AGM this year, when he noted “I don’t keep that money I get from the company, I give it away to a lot more deserving causes. I don’t think Westfield shareholders are a deserving cause to give them an extra cent.”