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Published 06 September 2012 05:05, Updated 06 September 2012 05:52
If businessman Greg Poche sets the Australian record for philanthropy, Melanoma Institute Australia chairman Reg Richardson is his coach and trainer. Star Track Express millionaire Poche has donated $65 million ($43 million of which was to set up the world-beating Melanoma Institute) of the $80 million Richardson says he’s generated for charity.
But the 71-year-old Richardson, who lobbies wealthy people to donate, wants to lift what he says is a low level of charitable giving. “I was talking to a major bank four months ago,” he says. “I asked them ... to explain their corporate philanthropy philosophy to me. I was told they didn’t have one.”
Richardson agrees that Australians, more used to relying on a public welfare system, donate less than Americans, who are not. But he doesn’t put that down to an Australian coyness to reveal their wealth.
Art collector Richardson, who made his own wealth through expanding and selling businesses in wholesale pharmaceutical distribution, information storage and property development, has a canny eye for investment. In the 1970s he bought a 1952 bottle of Grange Hermitage from wine critic Len Evans for $5 and sold it 20 years later “in the tens of thousands”. He says self-made people are best placed to give, as professionals don’t make the nearly the same money.
Richardson started fund-raising in the arts but now concentrates on health. As well as championing melanoma research, he campaigns to improve indigenous health – Aboriginal Australians aged 40 and older have six times the rate of blindness of mainstream Australians even though 94 per cent of this vision loss is preventable or treatable. Richardson represents himself and Poche on the boards of indigenous health research units at Sydney, Flinders and Melbourne universities. Richardson mitigates the risk of developing a do-gooder image – “I’m doing it for the greater good of society, without sounding bloody pretentious,” he laughs. He wears his signature Rabbitohs-themed red and green glasses in support of South Sydney District Rugby League club.
Everyone who is wealthy has a “major responsibility” to give, he says. “There are people who buy a house for $10 million and they give you $500. You think, ‘Give me a break’.”
Still, there are signs of change on the part of younger wealthy people, he says. “It seems to be ranks of the recently wealthy who are the ones kicking in big time.”