Monday 10 May 2010

Best and brightest?

“It’s abhorrent and it should be eliminated immediately.”  “We wouldn’t all be here if Canberra had told the truth. If Canberra had said that this is a nationalisation of 40% of the mining industry, and the first step towards where the despotic economies go when they start nationalising industry.”  
Andrew Forrest, CEO Fortescue Metals Group

This outburst from an excitable Andrew Forrest last week left me confused. What the hell was Australia’s wealthiest man getting at - apart from the obvious point that he didn’t like the new “super profits” tax? Was he really proposing that Kevin Rudd was leading Australia down a slippery slope of nationalisation and despotism? It was a big call. And it came from a man who you might expect to be capable of mounting a more meaningful defense of his industry. A man that should know a despot when he sees one. 

But something else struck me then. I started thinking about Australia’s richest men. The three that sprang to mind, Forrest, Frank Lowy, and James Packer didn’t leave me feeling very inspired. No Messrs Gates, Jobs, Buffetts or Serge / Larry combos there.

I knew very little of Forrest prior to his media foray last week - but need I know more after that? I also should acknowledge that I'm a big fan of the work of Frank's Lowy Institute.

Still, it's probably not ideal that the triumvirate at the top of our rich list are a miner, a property / shopping centre magnate and a casino baron. These industries are more about commercial opportunism than they are about creativity, innovation and dynamism. Essential industries no doubt - except gambling - but not the stuff of great entrepreneurial inspiration - unless money is of itself a source of inspiration.

They are emblems of a country obsessed with minerals, property, gambling and of course the accumulation of wealth. And I suppose that’s perfectly apt.

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