10/06/2010 - 00:00

Lack of local philanthropy a bit rich

10/06/2010 - 00:00


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A new report on philanthropy in Western Australia will shed some light on why the state’s wealthy are conspicuously absent when it comes to individual generosity.

Lack of local philanthropy a bit rich

A new report on philanthropy in Western Australia will shed some light on why the state’s wealthy are conspicuously absent when it comes to individual generosity.

More than a year in the making, the report’s launch in coming weeks could not be better timed as mining bosses, who form the bulk of WA’s rich-listers, not only face a national tax battle but have also been accused of hoarding their wealth.

At last week’s WA Citizen of the Year Awards, leading local philanthropists Stan Perron and Malcolm McCusker reportedly suggested that the state’s mining entrepreneurs could give more back to the community.

It is an issue identified by a group of leading philanthropists led by businessman John Poynton, who last year decided to do something about it – looking at creating an umbrella organisation under the tag Giving West. With funding from Lotterywest, the group commissioned a survey into philanthropy in Australia and WA, which reveals some of the reasons why the state’s rich appear less generous than their interstate or overseas counterparts.

Intriguingly, WA’s overall affluence and egalitarian culture can take much of the blame.

According to draft results of the survey, there is a perceived lack of need in WA with poverty relatively hard to find and many other typical charitable causes, such as medical research, already well funded.

Furthermore, there is a desire for privacy, which is partly driven by a culture that doesn’t accept tall poppies or those who engage in so-called big noting themselves.

Other issues identified by the report is the relatively short-term rise of wealth in WA, which means there is less experience and fewer established mechanisms for rich people to be assured their money is going to the right causes.

Retired academic Margaret Seares, who has been involved with the project from the start, said the survey had dug into areas that were acknowledged anecdotally but had never been scientifically investigated.

Ms Seares said the research found that Western Australians were less generous that those living on the east coast where high-profile industrialists, especially notable Jewish families, had a long track record of conspicuous generosity, which had become an accepted part of the culture.

Internationally, this is strongest in the US.

“Quite a few people suggested in the workshops that the boom and bust cycle (in WA) makes people wary of giving in the good times because they don’t know what is around the corner,” she said.

Ms Seares noted conspicuous giving was not always perceived positively in the community.

“People do give a reasonable amount but they don’t want to be seen as someone that everyone goes to when they want money,” she said.

“We interviewed some philanthropists about that and some of it is ... about personal safety and part of it is not wanting to be seen to be big noting.”

Mr Poynton said the research was very robust academically and it showed philanthropy was “underdone”, particularly in WA given the creation of wealth over the past 10 years.

He said part of the inspiration for Giving West was the experience of mining entrepreneurs who wanted to be generous but simply did not know how to go about it.

“This is about leaving behind something permanent that does something more than one individual organisation,” he said.

Mr Poynton noted the link between philanthropy and issues such as the proposed resource super profits tax, pointing to the rise a century or so ago of conspicuous giving in the US where the super rich – labelled robber barons – were under pressure to share the wealth they had made from the rapid development of the nation.



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