Kerry Packer

I didn’t want to blog on the passing of Kerry Packer immediately, since I didn’t have appropriately generous thoughts to add to the encomiums that were flowing. And indeed, praise seems to have come from many unexpected sources. Even Bob Gould, when I poppped in to buy a copy of the SMH from Gould’s Books in Newtown yesterday, opined to me that "as members of the ruling class go, he wasn’t too bad".

Still, I was surprised to see the suggestion from no less a source than our PM that Packer was a generous philanthropist. Perhaps by historical standards this is true, but certainly not in comparison with the super-rich in the US. Justin Wolfers and I did some work comparing Australian and US philanthropy for an article in AQ in 2002, and concluded that:

At the top, the contrast is at its most stark. America’s richest man, Bill Gates, has given away one-third of his wealth – a cool $33 billion – primarily towards addressing global health challenges. Moreover he plans to give most of the rest away, in short order. By comparison, while Australia’s richest man, Kerry Packer, is coy about his donations, we estimate that he has given away less than one-twentieth of his money – with the largest donations going to Australian hospitals.* Frank Lowy’s bold decision to fund a new thinktank is sadly atypical of the Australian super-rich. Enlightened self-interest for affluent Americans means leaving a better society. Australian silvertails generally prefer to leave behind rich children instead.

* According to BRW Magazine’s “Rich 200” list, Packer’s wealth in 2003 was $5.5 billion. We have been unable to find evidence to suggest that Packer’s lifetime charitable donations have exceeded 5% of this figure, or $275 million. Scant data on giving are available. In December 2002, Philanthropy Australia listed Frank Lowy as Australia’s leading philanthropist, with donations that year of $10 million: John Synnott, “Silvertails Who Have It And Happily Share It”, Sun Herald, December 1, 2002. If this is true, then Packer’s donations in 2002 would have been below $10 million. Packer’s largest publicized donation in 2002 may have been to the Farmhand appeal – it was reported that he had been one of seven people who collectively donated $4.5 million to the appeal. In 2001, it was reported that Packer had donated $10 million to the hospital that performed his kidney transplant. When we approached Packer’s office for further details on his charitable donations, we were told that “Mr Packer does not generally participate in interviews and prefers to keep the details of any donations a personal matter.” (email from Di Stone, 8 April 2003).

Of course, it was entirely Kerry Packer’s business whether he chose to donate to charitable causes or not. My only concern is the posthumous branding of Packer as a generous philanthropist, accompanied by the suggestion that we should not quibble about his tax minimisation because of his generosity.

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5 Responses to Kerry Packer

  1. Another is Gordon Moore of Intel. He has given 192% of his worth to philanthropy [PDF warning].

  2. Sinclair Davidson says:

    In terms of generosity the US is an outlier. Excluding the US, Australians are at the world average for philantrophy. The rich give more than the poor, and – as you say – Packer had a choice as to how to spend his money.

    ‘we should not quibble about his tax minimisation’ – indeed. The ATO with their vast resources of one billion dollars pa to spend on compliance (compared to Packers $7 billion or so stock of wealth) had a go at him, and lost. Lost. What with federal governments of both persuasions being high taxing, and judges being of a high-taxing bent too (after-all they are paid out of the budget, and their super is unfunded) winning against the ATO is quite an achievement.

  3. avocadia says:

    Gordon Moore is probably a better example that Bill and Melinda Gates. Once you get past a certain number of billions, the rest must seem superfluous so you might as well give it away to the cause of your choice.

  4. Jvc says:

    “the suggestion that we should not quibble about his tax minimisation because of his generosity”

    What exactly is your point with this senseless comment? Are your seriously suggesting that he ought to have paid more tax than the law requires?

    More to the point. You seem to also quibble about giving away 5% to charity. Have you give away 5%, so far in your life?

  5. Jvc : that is an extremely naive statement. Kerry Packer appears to have been a central player in the Australian tax minimisation industry for a long time and to have narrowly avoided goal as a result of the Costigan Royal Commission.
    The reason that he avoided the tax that pay as you go taxpayers have to pay is via various contrivances that the likes of you and I are unable to construct. This is not a moral argument but we expect the political system to close such loopholes. His total contribution to society includes his philanthropy and taxation as well as other gifts ( time, goodwill etc). On a pro rata basis he gave much less than average.

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