Cardboard king Anthony Pratt and his family are now Australia’s richest with their fortune climbing to $12.6 billion from $10.4 billion last year, according to the Australian Financial Review’s 2017 Rich List.
So just who is Australia’s richest man, and where does the money come from?
Anthony is the son of the iconoclastic cardboard king, the late Richard Pratt, and has doubled the size of the family enterprise since Pratt senior died in 2009.
Over the past year alone, the Pratts’ fortune grew by more than $2 billion, or 20 per cent.
In a world where sustainability has become a buzzword, the Pratts are in tune with the zeitgeist. Their Visy business was built on recycling waste paper into cardboard boxes, which the company has successfully expanded into the United States.
Richard was a hard act to follow; the all-conquering business figure who turned not much into several billion, played AFL with Carlton seconds and performed in Broadway plays.
He gave away millions, famously fathered a love child named after his mother Paula with girlfriend Shari-Lea Hitchcock without blowing his family apart, and was prosecuted by the ACCC over a cardboard cartel with industrial group Amcor.
Anthony was under pressure to perform. And many thought he wouldn’t. But the US business, effectively his baby for 20-plus years, now employs more people than Visy Australia (7000 compared with 5500) and has grown from 46th to the fifth-largest box producer in the US.
Like his dad, Pratt junior is eccentric. He likes to sing in public, sometimes belting out songs that refer to his red hair. He befriended boxing great Muhammad Ali and joined Bill Clinton’s Global Initiative in 2007, pledging to invest more than $US1 billion ($A1.33 billion) in recycling and clean energy — a benchmark he reached after five years.
He and partner number three, Claudine Revere, a gal from down Atlanta way he met while based in that city, are currently spending $9.5 million renovating the family mansion, Raheen, in the Melbourne suburb of Kew.
Not only their home, Raheen also serves as a base for the many functions his mother Jeanne hosts to support Visy, charity and her arts interests including The Production Company, which produces musicals.
The Pratt Foundation is one of the country’s leading philanthropic funds, distributing more than $250 million since 1978. In 2016, the Australian Taxation Office revealed that despite more than $2.5 billion in revenue in 2013-14, Pratt Consolidated Holdings paid no tax. In response, Mr Pratt said: “All I can say is that we abide by all the laws, as any good ethical company does.”
Behind Mr Pratt on the 2017 list come apartment entrepreneur Harry Triguboff, mining magnate Gina Rinehart, shopping centre titan Frank Lowy and commodity trader Ivan Glasenberg.
Ms Rinehart managed to boost her fortune by a dramatic 71 per cent to $10.4 billion. Her daughter, Bianca Rinehart, is listed at number 15 with a fortune of $2.7 billion. She boosted her position in March after a court ruled she had the right to sue her mother over a dispute involving the family trust.
Overall, the wealthiest 200 Australians have grown their stashes from $197.3 billion to $233.1 billion — a healthy rise of 18 per cent at a time when wages are falling in real terms.
Christopher Sheil, a visiting fellow in the Humanities school at NSW University, said the results show that “Australia is riding along with the trend to inequality globally”.
“Although we’re not as bad as the US we’re tracking the same as elsewhere. The idea of Australia as the land of the ‘fair go’ doesn’t hold up.”