Australia’s richest 250 and what they mean for philanthropy

Young tech entrepreneurs are giving mining and property magnates a run for their money – with both wealth and philanthropy – in the annual rundown of Australia’s wealthiest.

Australia’s Richest 250, a list published annually by The Australian newspaper, has arrived for 2022. ‘The List’ is the largest annual study of Australia’s wealthiest individuals, with the figures calculated in late February each year.

Let’s have a look at the top 10, general trends and who is making waves with their philanthropy.

The Top 10

1. GINA RINEHART: $32.64 billion

Last year’s position: 1

Source of wealth: Iron ore mining alongside investments in agriculture (beef) and media.

Philanthropic ventures

Gina’s business entity, Hancock Prospecting (which experienced a $7 billion profit in 2021), lends it support to several philanthropic efforts across Australia, including (as quoted on the Hancock website):

  • Non-contact, dedicated sport competitors of Australia, who are outstanding role models and who proudly represent our country.
  • Health, especially, but not only, addressing the widespread problem of cancer.
  • Education and community.

Gina has backed Australian sport and in particular, swimming for more than 30 years. She has provided support to Queensland swimming, Western Australian synchronised swimming, Olympic swimming, synchronised swimming, volleyball and rowing, and university scholarships for athletes.

Known for visiting girls’ orphanages in Cambodia, Gina is on the board of SISHA, a Cambodian nonprofit organisation campaigning against human trafficking.

Hancock Prospecting has also contributed to the redevelopment of a wing at St Vincent’s Private Hospital in Sydney and to the private Lady Bjelke-Petersen Community Hospital in Kingaroy, Queensland. Elsewhere in the health domain, Gina has provided loyal support to the National Breast Cancer Foundation.

Controversies / points of interest

Gina has maintained a highly critical view of the science surrounding climate change… in short, she is a climate change denier.

In 2012, she drew widespread criticism for her comments in a video in which she laments the cost of doing business in Australia. “Africans want to work,” she said “and its workers are willing to work for less than $2 per day. Such statistics make me worry for this country’s future.”

“It’s not the Australian way to toss people $2, to toss them a gold coin, and then ask them to work for a day,” replied then-Prime Minister Julia Gillard. “We support proper Australian wages and decent working conditions.”

Between 2010 and 2012, Rinehart spent $285 million on acquiring a share in Fairfax Media (around 18.6% of the business), making her the company’s biggest shareholder at the time. Media commentators were sceptical of Rinehart’s decision, believing it was a way for her to curb negative publicity about her and her company. However, her bid to have three sitting members on the Fairfax Media board and the ability to fire editors was denied. In 2015 she sold her shares.

F&P coverage

ANDREW FORREST: $31.77 billion

Last year’s position: 2

Source of wealth: Iron ore mining (Fortescue Metals Group) and cattle stations.

Philanthropic ventures

In 2001, Andrew and his wife, Nicola, founded Minderoo Foundation which, today, employs 90 staff to oversee $2 billion of commitments to projects spanning environment, Indigenous training and employment, childhood development, human trafficking, modern slavery, cancer, community, arts and culture, and research.

In 2001, Andrew and Nicola made The Giving Pledge, a promise by the world’s wealthiest individuals and families to dedicate the majority of their wealth to charitable causes.

Controversies / points of interest

Whilst Andrew’s business fortune has allowed him to give back at mind-boggling scale, his business endeavours have at times been a source of contention. Fortrescue’s richest mining district is on Aboriginal land – and while the company has provided jobs and training to the land’s Yindjibarndi people, it has not paid compensation to the authorised representatives of the traditional owners.

In 2022, Andrew Forrest filed a criminal complaint against Facebook, after the social media giant refused to remove scam ads featuring his face.

F&P coverage

Explore more about Andrew and Nicola Forrest’s giving in a large catalogue of articles here.

3. ANTHONY PRATT & FAMILY: $27.77 billion

Last year’s position: 4

Source of wealth: Visy Industries (packaging, paper and resource recovery, employing more than 7,000 people worldwide).

Philanthropic ventures

In 2017, Anthony announced that he plans to give $1 billion to charity before he dies.

His business has its own philanthropic arm, the Pratt Foundation. Causes supported by the foundation include the Royal Children’s Hospital, bushfire-affected regions and COVID-19 research and food relief.

Controversies / points of interest

Anthony Pratt’s Pratt Holdings was the biggest political donor in the last year, donating $1.3 million to the Liberal party  ahead of the 2022 election.

F&P coverage

4. MIKE CANNON-BROOKES: $26.2 billion

Last year’s position: 3

Source of wealth: Technology – co-founder and co-CEO of the software company Atlassian.

Philanthropic ventures

Mike’s philanthropic efforts are focused on fighting climate change and investing in sustainable companies and green technologies, pledging over $350 million in an effort to save the planet. This 2021 Forbes article sums up the scale and focus of his generosity.

Controversies / points of interest

Often referred to as the ‘accidental billionaire’, Mike and his university friend, Scott Farquhar, set out to earn more than $48,500 annually – the average salary offered to similar graduates – while working for themselves. This led to the establishment of Atlassian (creators of tools such as Jira and Trello) in 2001.

In 2017, Elon Musk made a $50 million bet with Mike. South Australia was encountering problems whilst pivoting to renewable energy – problems the head of Tesla’s battery division claimed could be solved in 100 days. The famous Twitter exchange that followed saw the biggest battery in the world built in South Australia, 40 days ahead of deadline.

In early 2022, Mike made a bid for Australia’s largest energy provider, AGL. His initial $8 million bid was rejected, as was his follow-up $9 million offer. The entrepreneur’s endgame was to stop AGL, which accounts for 8% of domestic greenhouse gas emissions, using coal by 2035, and to pump $20 billion into renewable energy and storage. The takeover bid was ultimately unsuccessful.

F&P coverage

5. SCOTT FARQUHAR: $25.99 billion

Last year’s position: 5

Source of wealth: Technology – co-founder and co-CEO of the software company Atlassian.

Philanthropic ventures

 The other ‘accidental billionaire’ half to business partner Mike Cannon-Brookes, Scott is a co-founder of the Pledge 1% movement, alongside (amongst others), Salesforce Chair and CEO, Marc Benioff. The movement aims to mobilise corporate philanthropy by encouraging and challenging companies to pledge 1% of equity, product, and employee time to their communities. Scott and Mike are leading by example, signing Atlassian up to the pledge.

Controversies / points of interest

Whereas Mike’s energy has been channeled toward climate action, Scott has focused on issues aligned with Atlassian’s operations, namely encryption laws that cost the company customers and the Australian government’s proposed cuts to immigration intake affecting the tech workforce.

F&P coverage

6. HARRY TRIGUBOFF: $20.81 billion

Last year’s position: 6

Source of wealth: Property – as a pioneer of apartment living, Harry earned himself the moniker ‘high-rise Harry’. Under his directorship, the Meriton Group has built, sold and leased more than 75,000 apartments.

Philanthropic ventures

 Harry gives around $3 million each year through the Harry Triguboff Foundation. Commitments have included Harry’s patronage of Bowel Cancer Australia and a $645,000 pledge to Australia’s 99 Olympic medallists at the Tokyo games, with the businessman announcing in 2021 that he would pay Australian athletes $5,000 for each medal they had won at the Tokyo Games.

Controversies / points of interest

In 2021, during an appearance at a Sydney industry breakfast, Harry condemned companies who provide flexible working arrangements, saying employees needed to return to offices because they were only ‘working half the time’ at home and laid the blame on ‘parasite’ bosses.

Harry has also shared his pain of unsuccessfully trying to obtain Australian visas for his parents following an escape from China after World War II.

F&P coverage

7. CLIVE PALMER: $18.35 billion

Last year’s position: 7

Source of wealth: Mining (iron ore, nickel and coal), tourism accommodation and real estate (early career).

Philanthropic ventures

Clive’s philanthropic ventures sit within The Palmer Foundation. “The Palmer Foundation is a private entity that engages in charitable projects that enable better welfare of others, and society as a whole,” the foundation’s website states.

The foundation has played an active role in the COVID-19 response – not without controversy as Clive hotly pursued (and sought recognition for) the use of hydroxychloroquine which has shown to be ineffective as a remedy for the virus.

Controversies / points of interest

Where to begin! To say Clive and his personal and political campaigns have been divisive would be an understatement. He faces up to five years in jail after being charged with fraud and dishonest use of his position as a company director of Mineralogy to allegedly funnel money into the 2013 election campaign (an ongoing criminal case) and won not one seat for his United Australia Party in the 2019 election despite a campaign spend of $80 million.

Let’s take a look at some of his most controversial ‘highlights’:

F&P coverage

We can offer only one 2009 article which featured Clive’s $100 million pledge to medical research in Western Australia – a pledge, which as covered above, has failed to come to fruition.

8. (=) MELANIE PERKINS & CLIFF OBRECHT: $15.89 billion

Last year’s position: 10

Source of wealth: Technology – the Canva graphic design platform that democratises design

Philanthropic ventures

Both Melanie and Cliff own an estimated 18% of Canva each, with the business valued at $55 billion (making it the most valuable private software company ever). The couple has pledged to transfer more than 80% of their stake to the Canva Foundation for charitable causes.

They have also signed up to the 1% pledge (see Scott Farquhar and Mike Cannon-Brookes earlier in this article). Through this effort they have already:

  • Given away their premium product to over 130,000 nonprofits for free
  • Allocated more than 45,000 volunteering hours each year (three full days for everyone at Canva)
  • Supported crisis relief efforts globally, such as the Australian bushfires and COVID response
  • Launched Print One, Plant One: planting a tree for every print order placed through Canva, committing to planting over 2 million trees.

Read this blog post by Melanie about how she and Cliff plan to make Canva one of the most valuable companies in the world – a feat that will enable them to ‘do the most good we can’.

Controversies / points of interest

Just a decade ago, the couple were rejected by more than 100 investors before they got their first ‘yes’ for Canva.

F&P coverage

Extraordinary gifts for extraordinary times

Tech disrupters and giving back

10. IVAN GLASENBERG – $9.1 billion

Last year’s position: 12

Source of wealth: His stake in Glencore, the world’s biggest commodities trader (copper, coal, oil, aluminium, and wheat) that operates 25 mines in Australia. Ivan was the CEO of the company from 2002–2021.

Philanthropic ventures

It has proved hard to come by publicly available information about any philanthropic endeavours attributable to Ivan, due in part to his reluctance to grant interviews or share information about himself.

Controversies / points of interest

Glencore has been investigated by the the US Department of Justice for corruption and money laundering, with the company overshadowed by accusations of secrecy and misconduct for a significant portion of Ivan’s tenure as CEO. Gary Nagle, Glasenberg’s successor announced this February that the company expects investigations in the US, UK and Brazil to be resolved by the end of this year at a cost of approximately USD$1.5 billion.

Noteworthy mentions from the other 240 people in the list

$20.8 billion average wealth, 131 billionaires, 30 women, and an average age of 65. Those are the key stats shared on The List’s landing page.

The list featured 29 new names this year, including 33-year-old Tahnee Beard, co-founder of streetwear brand Culture Kings.

One philanthropic standout is Richard White who founded software company, WiseTech Global in 1994. “I have benefited greatly from the development of my digital skills and knowledge and made more money than I ever thought anyone could reasonably make in a lifetime,” White tells The List. “So why not take the things that I have been rewarded with and give back something in the process?”

He has established a new technology education foundation with an initial gift of $50 million. He hopes other technology leaders will contribute to the foundation, which will fund the development and teaching of STEM courses, starting with high schools and followed by primary and tertiary education. The goal is to build the next generation of technology workers and leaders. A report released by The Tech Council of Australia last year concluded that Australia is 260,000 short of people with tech skills needed by 2025.

Other philanthropic highlights from The List include Platinum Asset Management shareholder, Judith Neilson’s support of the arts and journalism. Her former husband, fund manager Kerr Nielson, donated $11.47 million last year to more than 50 arts and health causes. Property tycoon, Lang Walker made two $20 million donations last year, one to a new medical research centre in Sydney and another to the Parramatta Powerhouse museum project. Former Westfield chairman, Frank Lowy and his family donated more than $50 million via their medical research foundation and put money into the Lowy Institute think tank.

Logistics entrepreneur, Peter Scanlon’s foundation has more than $150 million to distribute to various migrant causes, while former Toll Holdings managing director, Paul Little and wife Jane Hansen gave a $30 million gift to the University of Melbourne that includes the building of a residential hall and awarding of 20 full scholarships annually to high-achieving students who may otherwise be unable to attend the University.

With Australia’s billionaires doubling their collective wealth to a combined $255 billion during the COVID-19 pandemic, the massive divide that exists between our country’s richest and poorest is more apparent than ever. There is now more wealth in the possession of Australia’s top 47 billionaires than there is in the poorest 30% of residents.

It puts the question firmly on the table – if everyone in the Richest 250 gave away a significant proportion of their wealth, or even just 1% (which would still leave them incredibly rich), what could be achieved for those less fortunate?

To read the full list (subscription required), click here.


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