Don’t just question the billionaires about where their dollars go

Jim Hart writes: Re. “Dame Elisabeth: the end of an era of philanthropy?” It’s good to see people like Dick Smith and Daniel Petre encouraging wealthy Australians to emulate Dame Elisabeth Murdoch’s example of selfless philanthropy. But in pointing the finger at the uber-wealthy there’s a risk everyone else will ignore the message.

It’s not just the very rich who are letting the side down. Of course the billionaires could do a lot more but to focus just on them is to let a lot more off the hook. It’s become a cliché to talk about the 1% as code for the obscenely wealthy, yet even the entire BRW rich list is less than 0.001% of our population.

The real 1% is in fact a pretty big group — over 200,000 Australians who aren’t in the news but who are doing rather better than all right. A fair number of them would be baby boomers who despite the GFC can give themselves a very comfortable retirement plus taking care of the grandchildren’s school fees and still have plenty left over. And yet it’s a fair bet many of them think too much super is never enough and that philanthropy is for those higher up the tree.

As well as looking at the high income-earners there’s also the matter of income versus assets. As the baby boomers of the 1% retire from their high salaries and start living off their fat self-managed super funds (built with Peter Costello’s tax deductions), their taxable income can drop considerably with no change to their standard of living or their ability to help others.

The limited evidence suggests Australians in general are good at making donations in response to appeals (e.g. Salvos, bushfires) but reluctant to engage in a planned program of philanthropic giving. Perhaps this reflects our culture: we’re quick to chip in for a whip-around when someone’s in trouble, but when it comes to longer-term needs or social problems it’s easy to think someone else should fix it — probably the government, after all that’s what our taxes are for.

Instead of “donating” to their own super fund, more Australians could be putting into a philanthropic fund where the annual income can benefit society in almost any field you choose. You don’t need millions to do it and if you work through a community foundation there’s virtually no paperwork, yet the personal satisfaction is limitless. And you can still get a tax deduction.

Dame Elisabeth’s passing should not be the end of an era for philanthropy. Instead it should be the example for many Australians — not just the billionaires — to get off their assets and do something for others.

Barry Everingham writes: Dame Elisabeth was an outstanding Australian and in irreplaceable. The egregious Gina Rinehart could well take a leaf from her book.

Sarah Ogilvie writes: Are naming rights just that or are they always attached to large donations? If not then they should be. I am sure the wealthy of Australia could do more, as could we all!

Democratic Labor Party fights back

Michael Byrne, vice president and acting secretary of NSW DLP, writes: Re. “Come in Spinner: tale of two Catholic clerics, 50 years apart” (yesterday). Noel Turnbull’s contribution yesterday is somewhat rambling.

In it he inferred the Democratic Labor Party (DLP) to be a remnant political entity. This seems to be in complete ignorance of the DLP being one of the five political parties with an elected representative in the Australian Parliament. Remnant thinking? Oh if it were so; my life would be much easier as we address our age of asking what it is to be free.