Australia’s rich list: 200 capitalist parasites begging to be expropriated

23 June 2024
Chloe Rafferty

The annual Australian Financial Review (AFR) Rich List has, for the last 41 years, tracked the obscene accumulation of wealth by the capitalist class. The 2024 list, published in June, shows that Australia’s richest 200 people now have a collective fortune of $625 billion, up 11 percent in a year.

Compare that to the experience of workers, pensioners and the unemployed. Australian Bureau of Statistics figures released in February show that, in the year to September 2023, Australian workers suffered the biggest drop in household disposable income per capita in the developed world. And research published in April by ACOSS and the University of New South Wales on inequality in Australia showed that 45 percent of the increase in household wealth since 2003 has gone to the richest 10 percent (those with at least $2.6 million).

When reading the headlines about inflation, it’s easy for the real drivers of the cost of living crisis to be obscured. Media pundits talk about rising prices and stagnating wages as if these were natural processes over which no-one has any control. But inflation occurs because capitalists put prices up, and wages stagnate because they don’t raise them. The people who make these decisions have names and (prestige) addresses, and the AFR’s list provides a handy guide to some of the most heinous of them.

Five of the top ten fortunes have been built on extraction, with iron ore oligarch Gina Rinehart ($40.6 billion) sitting at the top of the list for the fifth year in a row. For the first time, Rinehart’s wealth has cracked the $40 billion mark, up $3.2 billion in a year—equivalent to “earning” the median Australian annual wage of $67,600 approximately every ten minutes, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Other miners in the top ten include recently separated pair Nicola ($16.9 billion) and Andrew Forrest ($16.8 billion) of Fortescue Metals, and Ivan Glasenberg ($14.9 billion), former head of Glencore, Australia’s largest coal producer. Joining them is Australia’s Trump-wannabe Clive Palmer ($22.8 billion), whose $40 million super yacht recently had to be towed to safety after running aground on a sand bar for the second time in a year.

Clive’s laissez-faire attitude to steering boats is understandable. He’s enjoyed a more or less completely risk-free lifestyle for decades—safe in the knowledge that, as one of Australia’s richest mining bosses, the government will always have his back. Under current Labor Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, this has included record-breaking government subsidies for fossil fuels, which increased by 31 percent in 2023-24 to $14.5 billion.

In the midst of a historic housing crisis, property developers continued to feature prominently in the Rich List. Coming in at number two is Australia’s biggest landlord Harry Triguboff ($26.5 billion) who, as head of Meriton, has a rental portfolio of 10,000 apartments. “I tried all my life to make housing affordable”, Harry told the ABC in 2015. “The more affordable the house, the more money I make.”

In Sydney, where an estimated 3 percent of people live in a unit built by Meriton, rents rose by 13.6 percent in the year to March. Meriton itself has contributed to this. It made headlines last year when its Sydney Waterloo complex hit renters with an increase of 45 percent. Around the same time, a leaked email Meriton bosses sent its leasing and building management team called on agents to “ensure you’re pushing rents as hard as possible” at a time when “the market is on fire”.

It seems (surprise, surprise) that “making housing more affordable” wasn’t quite so important to Triguboff or to his ability to make money as he made out.

Rich listers from the mining and property industries are being joined in increasing numbers by tech billionaires. The insufferable Mike and Annie Cannon-Brookes ($24.4 billion combined)—the self-styled “environmental investor activists” behind software-as-a-service company Atlassian—lead the pack. Atlassian’s profitability was helped along last year by the sacking of one in twenty of its employees. And it certainly doesn’t hurt that taxpayers are footing most of the bill for the company’s new headquarters—with the New South Wales government coughing up $48.2 million to help build “Tech Central” in Sydney’s CBD.

Another recent addition to the AFR’s list from the tech sector is Ed Craven ($4.5 billion), whose wealth shot up by $1.4 billion, or 45 percent, in the past year. Craven’s company has grown into one of the world’s biggest gambling enterprises off the back of crypto-currency deposits. It sounds shady, and it is shady—taking money from often desperate people, and providing a means of laundering money from criminal enterprises, just like regular casinos, but with the added benefit of getting around the kind of minimal regulations that apply when regular currency is used.

Craven has been described as a “self-made” billionaire. Yet, like so many other rich listers, this is at best a half-truth. Ed’s father Jamie Craven was a senior finance executive who was banned from working in the industry for five years and jailed for six months for his part in the downfall and bankruptcy of Spedley Securities in the 1980s. It appears the apple didn’t fall far from the tree.

Admittedly, some members of the Rich List didn’t get a leg-up from wealthy parents. Some got one from the government—making their massive fortunes, among other things, by running privatised government services at insanely inflated prices.

Take the Murphy family ($750 million), who scraped into the list at number 193. Robin Murphy and his sons Rory, Adrian and Daniel run Canstruct International, the company that built the Nauru Regional Processing Centre—a detention centre for refugees—on behalf of the Gillard Labor government in 2012.

In 2017, under the Turnbull Liberal government, Canstruct was brought back to run the detention centre under a five-year contract. By the time its contract ended in 2022, it had been given $1.8 billion in public funds for its services, despite the number of refugees detained on Nauru having fallen from more than 1,000 to just 100. According to government figures, Canstruct was, by 2021, receiving almost $12,000 a day per refugee detained.

Torturing refugees is all in a (highly lucrative) day’s work for the kinds of upstanding characters who make up Australia’s richest 200 capitalists.

The $625 billion these parasites collectively control is just a small fraction of the rapidly expanding wealth of Australia’s capitalist class as a whole. The market capitalisation of the top 200 companies listed on the ASX is more than $2.5 trillion. Imagine what could be done with that wealth, and the enormous productive infrastructure and human labour that went into making it, if we didn’t leave it all in the hands of people like Gina Rinehart, Clive Palmer and Robin Murphy.

These are people whose sole interest in life lies in amassing ever greater wealth for themselves—no matter the cost for everyone else. They are practically begging to be expropriated. If we’re to build a world of justice and equality, they’ll need to be.

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