When Dick Asked Harry … FOR $1 BILLION

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Dick Smith goes public with a plea for billionaire Meriton developer Harry Triguboff to use $1 billion of his $11.4 billion fortune for philanthropy. How about The Harry Triguboff Research Hospital…. “it’s a great way of showing off”, says Dick in this exclusive interview with Andrew L. Urban.

Andrew: All right. Well, the first question I have is, really, fairly obvious. Why do you make this invitation public?

Dick: Because I’m more and more concerned about the huge change in Australia the last 50 years, where we went … When I was a young person, anyone who was wealthy … and there were no billionaires; but, in the 1950s, anyone who was wealthy was also known as a philanthropist. We had the people like Sir Vincent Fairfax. We had Sir Edward Hallstrom, Myer Family … they were all wealthy. They normally all had knighthoods. They were called Sir Fairfax, and they were all known as philanthropists; and then, I’ve seen this period where we now have 50 billionaires, which I can’t even imagine someone being a billionaire when there’s five million Australians who live pay-packet-to-pay-packet, but fair enough.

Dick: So, we have 50 billionaires, and I’m told that many of them are … basically donate so little that it’s virtually negligible, and I see it heading to the destruction of Australia as we know it today, because this is a country that was built up on mate-ship, and mate-ship means you look after your mate, you have a bit of egalitarianism, and that’s going; and then, the reason, first of all, I put the request in to Harry was that Tony Kidman had called me out of the … Tony Kidman is the late father of Nicole Kidman, and he used to ask for money, and he used to ask for money openly. He’d invite everyone to a function; and then, he’d stand up, and say, “Look, I’m raising money for the research that I’m doing. Please, would you help?” And I always admired him for that. I’ve never been any good at asking anyone for money. I’ve been hopeless with that.

Dick: But he did that, and I admired him because of it; and so, I thought, “Well, I’ll do the same thing with Harry,” and the reason I’ve done it publicly is, it’s a message to all wealthy people. Look, you should be openly generous, or you’re going to destroy this fantastic country, because I look back on Russia in 1917, and, of course, the revolution in France, where the pitchforks come out; because, if you just end up with sheer greed at one end, and many millions of very poor people at the other end, in the end, they rebel.

Andrew: Yeah, yeah, even though that’s unthinkable in Australia, for some reason.

Dick: Well, I don’t know. I think, yes, hopefully, it’s unthinkable; but this incredible difference in wealth is new, and the world has never been like that before. We now have the man who owns Amazon worth $100 billion. Not $100 million, $100 billion, and that’s U.S., so that’s $120 billion Australian; and he’s earned his money not by inventing some new product, but, basically, by sacking people. He does. He automates the supply chain, and cuts out typical workers; and so, that really worries me.

Dick: And then, with Harry Triguboff, he has run this very successful campaign to, basically, make it so Australians don’t have the typical quarter-acre block. He’s quite proud of it.

Andrew: Yeah, yeah.

Dick: He’s moved people from the quarter-acre block into his high-rise, which he’s made billions out of, and when he refused to even talk to me, I said, “Could I come and talk to you about the fact that so many young Australians now can’t afford what was the Aussie dream?” He refused to even talk to me, and that’s his right; but then, I always believed that he lived in a unit himself in high-rise. I thought he’s one of these people who loves living in a city in a high-rise. He has this beautiful penthouse; you see he filmed it.

Dick: But then, as someone drew my attention, that there he was, showing off on Channel Seven, his magnificent acreage on the waterfront, with lots of grass and trees for his grandkids to play, and make a cubby house and play cricket all over the wonderful dream that’s been lost; and the actual interview, [inaudible 00:05:07] asked him about that, and he just said, “Well, stiff luck! I chained you to all that, and stiff luck,” and that worried me a bit.

Andrew: As a sort of follow-up question to that, Dick, would you consider mapping out quite seriously and carefully what his billion dollars might best be used for?

Dick: Well, I’ve said that, in my … I know more, other than in my tape, and you’ll see this, but dig for it later.

Andrew: Yeah, I saw that.

Dick: Yeah? Well, I think a fantastic research hospital, and … I’m sorry, I made a mistake. I should have said, “Call it the Harry Triguboff Research Hospital,” because … Look, once you’ve got a couple of hundred million, it’s really all about showing off, and it’s basically about showing off once you’ve got a … Once you’re worth more than a couple of hundred million, it’s pretty hard to spend any more money; but it’s about showing off, and that’s why I … You know, as I mentioned, MacRobertson Chocolates, the famous chocolate manufacturer … There’s the MacRobertson Girls High School, there’s the actual MacRobertson’s Bridge, across the Arrow River. He was doing the right thing, but he was showing off [inaudible 00:06:24], and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that; but, these days, most billionaires show off, because they have the most expensive waterfront. “You know, mine’s worth $50 million!” “Mine’s $70 million!” Or they have the biggest boats. So, I want to show off.

Dick: Now, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. I’m not … just the human condition; but wouldn’t it be great if you could also show off, as well as show off by putting something back into people who are less well-off, and Harry could do such fantastic good. I mean, just $1 billion would really … A research hospital for the poor could just help so many people, and maybe I’m deluded, but I would have thought he’s somehow missing out on this immense pleasure he could get from openly helping other people. He does do some donations. I understand it’s not very much, but it’s all secretly done.

Dick: Now, that’s really sad, that something was lacking in his bringing-up. Something … I don’t know what his parents told him, but I was lucky I came up in the Scouts, and I had all these scout masters who were volunteering their time for nothing, and teaching me leadership; and then, you had to help other people at all times, and to do a good turn every day. It was very simple stuff taught to you as a kid from the age of eight. Unfortunately, I don’t think Harry’s had any of that.

Andrew: Yeah. Have you ever met him?

Dick: I don’t think I have. Maybe at a big function. I have to be careful in saying, “No, I haven’t,” because Harry would then say, “Well, he did.” It would have only been maybe at a great big function, and I just haven’t … I’ve never, unfortunately, been able to sit down and talk to him, because he refuses to talk with me, because his view is that just endless growth.

Andrew: I was just reading the other day about Paul Ramsay’s foundation, which he put a lot of money into. What’s your reaction to that?

Dick: Oh, absolutely fantastic! See, Paul Ramsay is one of the few … and he always was incredibly generous; and so, I just say he’s fulfilling his responsibilities when he was alive, and when he died, and that’s like [inaudible 00:08:55]. Don’t get me wrong, we do have some billionaires, a small number, who fulfill their responsibility. I made a mistake in my podcast, because I said we only had one who’d signed the giving pledge; but I noticed, when I clicked on the giving pledge, that Len Ainsworth is a wonderful businessman who invented electronic poker machines, and he signed the giving pledge, and I read his letter, and it’s incredibly inspirational.

Dick: The amazing thing about you talking to me … I sent this out on Sunday, yesterday afternoon, and I thought, “This will hit the media, and my phones will be besieged, and be on the front page of every newspaper.” No one has been going to touch it!

Andrew: You’re kidding!

Dick: Yep! This has not been touched. The Telegraph, I thought, was doing something for Monday, but they just put it on their website, not even deign to put it in their newspaper, because … and I noticed some of the comments on the digital version … People are saying, “Dick Smith has no right to ask Harry Triguboff for money!” Whereas no one thought that Tony Kidman was wrong in asking for money.

Andrew: Bit bizarre-

Dick: … money for myself, and nor was Tony Kidman. He was asking for to do good things with it, and …

Andrew: And, Dick, excuse my ignorance, but I know that you’ve been very generous, but can you just remind me some of the things that you’ve done? Because I know you’ve done a lot.

Dick: No, I don’t want to talk about them at all, but you can look them up. My suggestion is you … Look at that Telegraph article this morning on the digital version of the paper. That mentions something, I think; or look on Wikipedia. It’s been done by others; but no, I don’t want to talk about them, because, see, that’s … Oh, you don’t want to be a do-gooder!

Andrew: No, I know what you’re saying, yes!

Dick: I don’t want to be a do-gooder; and so, this is … but it’s quite interesting, the very fact that no one in the media, the left ABC … You’d think that’d want to touch something about billionaires. No way! It’s almost as if no one is allowed [inaudible 00:11:12] a billionaire, and you mustn’t imply that they’re not fulfilling their obligations as a person … and any reason Harry has made so much money. I mean, he’s quite brilliant, but the main reason is this fantastic society, with the police, and everything.

Dick: That was one of the other things. I recommended he set up this foundation to help police legacy; people who have kept him safe. Many countries, he’d be kidnapped! Any of us would be kidnapped. But we have this police force, and a military to give us this wonderful security; but then, those people get killed, and so, what about the poor family?

Andrew: Well, it’s funny that you said-

Dick: You know, I’ve always helped police legacy, because that’s … The widows of these policemen who have been killed while they’re trying to protect us!

Andrew: It’s funny you should say that, because I’m not sure if you’re aware, but there’s a new film just about to come out, telling the true story of Getty’s grandson kidnapping.

Dick: Oh! Well, that would be really interesting to watch! I can’t wait to watch it, so that they-

Andrew: Yeah, well, that’s coming soon. So, that’s actually a good angle for the story!

Dick: Yeah! So, to me, you’re the only reporter I’ve spoken to, or anything. It’s just quite amazing to me! It’s almost as if the journalists say, “Oh, you can’t … That’s sort of wrong! You must let these billionaires be on their own, and to be greedy if they want to be, and not dare …” I’m not criticizing … if you listen to my audio, I’m being positive in saying you’ve done incredibly well-

Andrew: Yes, I saw that, and I noticed-

Dick: … population, but how about, before you die, doing something really fantastic?

Andrew: Yeah! I mean, look, I understand it; but you’re talking about … You mentioned before, you wonder how was he brought up, because it does go to character, and, perhaps, to upbringing.

Dick: Why don’t journalists write about it, then?

Andrew: Yeah.

Dick: The fact that we can have someone worth $11 billion, and be quite happy not to be known as a philanthropist.

Andrew: Yeah. I should give Mr. Triguboff a call.

Dick: Yeah, definitely do, definitely do, and-

Andrew: Try and track him down.

Dick: … was asked that I sent my podcast to him, and he answered the telegraph with three questions; that they asked him three questions. Well, no, he came back, and basically said, “Dick Smith should stick to his own business.” So, that is my business now. I’m trying to raise money for important causes. So, that’s what I’m doing now. I’ve made enough money for myself. I’m quite well-off; and a few other things he said, which I tended to agree with him on … He’s certainly won the perpetual growth thing. Nine out of 10 Australians agree we should have a plan, but no political party does. It’s just grow like mad, presumably to a few trillion people; and then, we can’t even move. I don’t know what the plan will be.

Andrew: Yeah, there’s no plan; but, then, let’s not get into politicians and visions, stuff like that!

Dick: Oh, no, we won’t get into that!

Dick: Where would you be able to get a story running? If you’re going to get something run, who would run it?

Andrew: Well, I’ve been literally freelancing most of the time. I’ve been mostly for the Spectator, and for the Australian. Those are my two main outlets.

Dick: Right. Well, I mean, I’d love you to do something, because it’s amazing to me that this has had no media coverage whatsoever! You’d think one wealthy person saying to another wealthy person, “Hey, come on! You’ve got to dig deep, and you’re not fulfilling your responsibility!” That’s what I’m saying, and no comment! Some people are saying that trolls are saying I have no right to be doing this. So, when everyone just shuts up … I mean, those people are thinking, “God, look at all … We’ve got 50 billionaires now, and only two have signed the Bill Gates pledge, and most of them are not known as philanthropists!” Whereas, as I said, in 1950s, every wealthy person was!

Andrew: Yeah, it’s an interesting-

Dick: Peter Faiman was the director of Crocodile Dundee, and he went and lived for about 10 years in Los Angeles, and he said to me once, “Dick, in American, the [inaudible 00:15:57] is that, if you’re wealthy, you also have to be known as a philanthropist; as a giver. You just wouldn’t be able to join the golf club. If you were known as wealthy, and you’re not known to be openly generous; whereas, he said, in Australia, it is completely different. Somehow, from the 1950s on, we’ve gone into this scene, where you can have incredibly wealthy people who are not known to give anything away … and, by the way, when they tell me they do it secretly, I have difficulty believing that, because I’ve asked the big charities, “Do you ever get any money [crosstalk 00:16:36]?” And they’ve said, “Never! Nothing substantial, never!” And then, they say they do it secretly; but any of their staff … See, most Australians, their giving is done by volunteering. So, you can’t do that with a disguise on! You have to do it openly!

Andrew: No, that’s right!

Dick: So, I don’t think it’s fair, just because you’re wealthy, you can do it secretly; whereas, if you’re a typical Australian who volunteers in the Scouts, or the sporting club, you have to do it openly, and you could be judged as a do-gooder.

Andrew: Yeah, yeah.

Dick: That’s the worst thing ever to be in Australia, a do-gooder.

Andrew: Where is Triguboff based? Is he Sydney?

Dick: In Sydney, in town.

Andrew: In town. I’ll look him up.

Dick: I can give you the email of his PA.

Andrew: Yeah, that’d be good.

Dick: Yeah, I’ll put you back to her. I don’t know … have her phone number, or anything like that. I mean, it would be wonderful if you could talk to him.

Andrew: Yeah, I’ll try.

Dick: And he’s normally incredibly on the media all the time. As I mentioned, have a look at that segment of him showing off his house. A magnificent house … and he’s quite proud to say, “Yes, 50 years ago, everyone wanted a house with a quarter block. I’ve changed all that!” As he’s standing on his magnificent land, and he doesn’t think, “Oh, that’s a bit unfair!” I’m pretty sure he would say, “Well, I’m a very successful businessman, and I deserve it, and these other people didn’t make enough money, so they don’t deserve it!” I’m not sure.

Andrew: Well, I’ll give it a go. Send me through, yeah-

Dick: I’ll put you through to my PA, and she’ll give you his PA’s name, and his-

Andrew: Okay. All right, Dick.

Dick: Good to talk to you!

Andrew: And you, Dick! Thank you for that! Thanks for your time!

Dick: Thank you!