Has anyone else noticed that the billionaires are quiet at the moment?
They certainly haven’t had much to say once you subtract the requests for handouts, tax cuts, deregulation that benefits their business, or special treatment on travel quarantines.
Yet if you start scanning the coronavirus news for community-focused largesse flowing from their ample coffers … pretty much zip.
And that’s not to say billionaires don’t love making huge donations to their own tax deductable charitable foundations – mining magnate Andrew Forrest, made a whopper, with $100 million for COVID-19 response.
A private foundation means the donor retains all control, including the foundation’s mission, the board, and where, how and when money is allocated.
But, beyond this gift to themselves, where are the visionary and inclusive big investments in nation-building projects to fund the next generation of economic growth?
Or, dare we say it, paying a tax bill that looks a lot like the percentages the average pay-as-you-go wage earner stumps up?
Surely one of our cashed-up OAMs want to provide solar-fed EV charging stations through regional areas or a really, really fast train – if not a very fast one.
Anything big picture that may have been thought up by someone else rather than the billionaires.
Because it’s not like things have yet gone bad for the top end of town in the big bust.
In the March update of its top 10 rich list, the Australian Financial Review calculated that only six of Australia’s highest-worth individuals had lost more than 3 per cent of their wealth – not a bad number when you ponder how many gig economy workers are eating into super balances right now.
Maybe their billionaire employers will top them up again with an extra 3 per cent to the long recommended 12 per cent mark to ensure there’s still a happy retirement ahead.
It really is time to be offering cash, instead of just wisdom.
Gina Rinehart may have a few bob, but she is also one of our richest profferers of advice about who she thinks we should be.
No vitamins were distributed to the apparent hordes of immune-deficient Australians, but our $18.5 billion agony aunt did find the time to complain about “supply chain deficiencies” and the lack “self-sufficiency” in defence procurement.
“We must cut the biggest part of those costs, taxes and [red] tape, to encourage investment,” she told Sky News.
“History has shown that propping up industries with government handouts isn’t the best solution.”
So no doubt Ms Rinehart is ready to start building stuff instead of digging up ore and shipping it overseas?
Endless arrays of solar power in the vast WA outback perhaps? Or new methods for storing and monetising the energy?
Well, not exactly.
Tax reform and cutting red tape are apparently the answer to everything from drought to bushfires.
Still, don’t fret, kids, vitamins will be available on the shelves again soon.
Probably not hydroxychloroquine though.
Over at No.2 rich lister Anthony Pratt’s Foundation they’re probably not talking too much about the $1 million donation to the Australasian COVID-19 Trial which was widely touted in the media at the end of March.
Led by Royal Melbourne Hospital researchers at the Doherty Institute, the anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine – surprisingly a particular favourite of the US President, a friend of Mr Pratt’s – was to be trialled with others.
US trials have since shown no benefit. Anyone for more of Gina’s vitamins?
Still, only-just-a-billionaire Gerry Harvey – of Harvey Norman share-house furniture fame – also has form in trying to pick medical winners.
Having offered an emphatic “who cares” about the Italians and Chinese who were dying of the “flu-like” COVID-19 he famously gloated on 60 Minutes about how much money he’d make through panic-buying.
“Our sales in freezers are up 300 per cent. And what about air purifiers? Up 100 per cent,” he chortled.
Harvey Norman stock fell from $4.87 in mid-February to $2.63 on Thursday.
Forbes magazine actually has a real-time rich list tracker where you can see how much Mr Harvey’s wealth fell yesterday – $492,376 as it turns out.
Which is probably comforting for media mogul Kerry Stokes, who can at least check his daily loss of wealth in comfortable home isolation after he and his wife were given special exemption from Australia’s 14-day quarantine rules on medical grounds.
The couple had reportedly returned to Perth from the United States on their private jet two weeks ago, but WA Police deemed that the usual quarantine in a supplied hotel need not apply to them. After their quarantine they jetted to Canberra for Anzac Day services with the PM.
Of course it is not just our home-grown billionaires who manage to make self-interest a spectator sport.
UK showboat Richard Branson was at his squirm-inducing worst when seeking a UK government bailout for his Virgin Atlantic airline this week – even offering up as collateral his regularly hurricane-hit private island in the Caribbean.
Even with only 10 per cent of Virgin Australia, Branson tried the same sad story on our government, but to no avail.
He was appalled at the thought he was considered a tax exile and wrote in pleading terms about his love of the British Virgin Islands.
Still, there’s some hope that younger billionaires are a bit more savvy in sharing the wealth.
The young guns at technology giant Atlassian, Scott Farquhar and Mike Cannon-Brookes, say they are continuing to pay their ‘hourly service workers’ and have made distance learning programs available free to teaching staff, while cutting fees on its academic licences to educational institutions and teaching hospitals.
Apple also seems to be doing the right thing by its workers.
In Australia staff that are no longer in offices are reportedly working from home on full pay completing online training courses via the secretive Apple University.
However, it’s probably best not to talk about Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, whose wealth has gone up by some $30 billion during the pandemic, while his staff in the US have been refused paid sick leave.
Not to mention wannabe Martian and Tesla EV manufacturer Elon Musk who, in trademark style, decided what the US needed was ventilators provided from his personal supply.
CNN reported that the equipment supplied was not full ventilator units but much cheaper bi-level machines that had been manufactured by Australian company Resmed and which were previously used to aid sleep apnea.
Musk has form in the Thai cave rescue in providing equipment he thinks the experts need in an emergency, only to turn on a hero diver when he offered less than fulsome praise.
On Thursday, Musk moved from tweets about ventilators to his Starlink satellite service that he claims will provide broadband to the world’s poor – a project that astronomers say could result in unredeemable light pollution that will obscure many observations from Earth.
Once again the noisy billionaire reckons he knows what we all want, but fails to follow through with what we really need.
After all, even a dying man should get to choose between a failing breathing apparatus or one last view of the stars.