Business leader Chris Ellison joins an eclectic elite with his appointment as New Zealand’s honorary consul in Western Australia, joining 44 other local representatives of foreign nations in what he considers a philanthropic gesture.
A New Zealander by birth, Mr Ellison arrived in Australia in the mid-1970s and worked in the construction sector, which was then busy with the restoration of Darwin after cyclone Tracy, before heading to Karratha to establish a rigging business.
Over the intervening four decades he has been involved in numerous resources-related businesses and now heads listed mining house Mineral Resources, which has a market capitalisation of more than $1.5 billion.
His stake is worth around $220 million, having sold shares worth more than $150 million since 2007.
Despite his wealth, Mr Ellison has been one of Perth’s more low-key resources magnates, although he was partially thrust into the limelight in 2009 when he paid $57.5 million for Angela Bennett’s Mosman Park mansion.
Speaking just before the official celebration of his appointment and the establishment of a New Zealand consulate to WA, the businessman said he had taken on the role as way of giving back to the community, hoping to improve trade and reduce the need for New Zealanders to emigrate in search of work.
About 70,000 New Zealanders live in WA and Mr Ellison sympathises with difficulties of leaving family and loved ones behind to start anew.
“I have probably reached that point in my life and my career that I want to get a little more involved in charities and giving back,” he said.
“I have a fairly good understanding of what it is like to be a migrant from New Zealand and turn up here with little understanding of the culture we have got in Australia.
“At the same time, through my business experience, it is an opportunity to get cross trade going in a better way between New Zealand and WA, in particular.
“There are already a number of business operating in New Zealand that are exporting into WA and a number of people I know are doing vice versa.”
New Zealand high commissioner Martyn Dunne said Mr Ellison was identified from a shortlist of potential names and was approached about the role a year ago, which is primarily to help his nation improve links with the western side of Australia.
“With WA there had not had been a lot of contact, but we knew it was an economic powerhouse,” Mr Dunne said.
“It is now the 15th-largest trading location for New Zealand, it is becoming more important and it was in our interest to find someone to represent us.
“Through a process of elimination we struck a very able individual.”
Mr Ellison joins a broad group of honorary representatives of more than a third of the nations that have consular services of any nature in Australia.
Some, like former Soviet republics Kazakhstan, represented by Drake Resources CEO Jason Stirbinskis, and Belarus, represented by Muzz Buzz executive chairman Warren Reynolds, don’t have consular services elsewhere in Australia, or even embassies in Canberra.
Among the honorary consuls are other CEOs like Zernike Australia CEO Arnold Stroobach, who represents his native Netherlands; several Fremantle-based trading players such as Seaway Logistics state manager Henning Jacobsen (Denmark) and Wiltrading chief operating officer Robert Lynn (Norway).
Others include lawyers like Kavanagh principal Martin Kavanagh (Ireland), Palermo Chartered Accountants director John Palermo (Uruguay), barrister Graham Droppert (Bangladesh) and resources professionals such as Tangiers Petroleum director Max de Vietri (Mali).