Get all your news in one place.
100’s of premium titles.
One app.
Start reading
Michael Sainsbury

Keeping up with the Pratts: Billionaire’s influence goes far beyond Trump

When news broke last week that Australian billionaire Anthony Pratt had been the confidante of former US president Donald Trump — who allegedly spilled nuclear secrets in his bid to convince the businessman to push Australia to buy US submarines — it was hardly surprising to anyone familiar with the cardboard magnate.

Pratt’s entire family, led by his late father Richard and mother Jeanne, have long been at the nexus of business and politics in Australia. It’s now clear that this also extends to America, where Pratt’s packaging company Visy operates a multibillion-dollar-a-year business.

Pratt is chairman of both Australian-headquartered Visy and US-based Pratt Industries, two massive paper, packaging and recycling companies. Visy was built over many decades by Richard Pratt, who died in 2009. It has since seen huge expansion into the US, where its business now outstrips Australia.

The combined earnings of Pratt Industries and Visy grew to $1.97 billion in 2022, putting the family at number three on the AFR Rich List with $24.3 billion, only behind miners Gina Rinehart and Andrew Forrest.

It’s worth noting that part of the foundation of that wealth came through illegal price fixing, busted open by the competition regulator in 2007 but for which only $36 million in fines were paid. Despite this, his father was eulogised in a 2010 state memorial service by then-prime minister Kevin Rudd and then-Victorian premier John Brumby.

Pratt has two Australian-based sisters, Fiona Geminder and Heloise Pratt, who are Visy’s co-owners. Geminder and her husband, Raphael, own a substantial stake in ASX-listed Pact Holdings, which “provides specialty packaging solutions, servicing both consumer and industrial sectors”. Heloise owns about 30% of listed investment company Thorney Opportunities, which she built with her former husband Alex Waislitz.

The big spender

Anthony Pratt is one of Australia’s biggest political donors. Just last year he donated $1.5 million to the Labor Party’s national division, as well as about $1.7 million to the Liberals and Nationals.

In non-federal election years, when miner Clive Palmer spends up very big, Pratt has for some time been at the top of the donation list, giving almost $1.3 million to the Liberal Party and just $10,000 to Labor’s NSW branch in 2021, and a similar amount the previous year. Most recently he donated $1 million to the Voice To Parliament Yes campaign.

The Pratts have, at various times, put former prime ministers Bob Hawke, Malcolm Fraser, Gough Whitlam, and NSW premier Nick Greiner on the Visy payroll after they had left office. Crikey is not suggesting any impropriety here.

Anthony Pratt’s style is far more low-key, non-combative and adept at reaching across the aisle than his father.

“He’s very likeable and generous but not in your face,” a former senior diplomat told Crikey, adding that Pratt’s main interest was simply making sure that things went well for his business. “He would always open up his apartment in Central Park South if needed”.

Pratt’s American wife, Claudine Revere, runs a hospitality business and splits her time between Melbourne and New York.

While the US is a collection of 50 often very different state jurisdictions, Australian business outside Silicon Valley has always revolved around the Big Apple. Being the financial capital, it’s also home to those great political influencers, the Murdochs. Every visiting politician makes a beeline to kiss Rupert’s — and now Lachlan’s — “ring”, a former diplomat said.

Very close to the Murdochs is Pratt who, New York-based Australians and former diplomats said, makes an effort to attend “the essential” annual gala dinner held by the American Australian Association, of which Rupert Murdoch is on the advisory council and a patron. The AAA was founded by Rupert’s father, Keith, in 1948 — and its website tellingly features a prominent photo of Lachlan Murdoch and Anthony Pratt on its about page.

Held at the sumptuous Wall Street branch of famed Italian restaurant Cipriani, the event represents a who’s who in Australian and US business.

“The billionaire proprietors, not staff like [Qantas and Woodside] chair Richard Goyder, bankers, lawyers. The real elite,” a former New York-based Australian businessman said.

Friends in high places

Locally, Pratt certainly gets plenty of political bang for his buck if you count both face-to-face and photo opportunities.

When Visy opened its new paper recycling and remanufacturing facility in Coolaroo, Victoria, in August this year, recently retired Victiorian premier Dan Andrews and federal Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek were in eager attendance.

“Premier Andrews, Minister Plibersek, it’s an honour to partner with you and your governments to deliver these projects for Victorians,” Pratt said at the time. “We can’t make these changes without government action, and I thank you for your foresight and dedication to practical environmental reforms.”

Only 10 months earlier in Brisbane, Pratt sang eerily similar praise of Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk.

The situation is the same in the US, where Pratt quietly joined Trump’s Mar-a-Lago golf resort in 2017 soon after Trump was elected president, with Pratt having supported him — and his lower taxes — ahead of the 2016 election. Pratt is reported to have won $450,000 by betting $100,000 on Trump to win the 2016 election.

Two years later, Trump — along with former Australian prime minister Scott Morrison — would be touring Pratt’s nascent US$500 million plant in Ohio. Effusive praise flowed: “He’s the Don Bradman of Australian job creation,” Pratt told Trump about Morrison, before describing Bradman as “our Babe Ruth”.

Pratt said at the time he “would not have invested in this plant if it wasn’t for president Trump’s election, [which] has given us an incredible faith in investing in America”. But in recent months Pratt told investigators that he now supports the current US government, reportedly describing himself as someone who tends to just “side with the king”.

Three weeks ago, Pratt opened a US$700 million recycled paper mill and corrugated box factory in Kentucky, showing off his political connection to Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear, Australia’s ambassador to the US Kevin Rudd, and his US counterpart Caroline Kennedy. He has announced that he plans to invest another $500 million in Pennsylvania over the next decade, for recycling, remanufacturing and clean energy infrastructure.

“We’re honoured to open this factory with Governor Beshear and Ambassadors Kennedy and Rudd,” said Pratt, once again pouring honey in the ears of his political friends. 

“When we first met two years ago, I told Governor Beshear we were planning to make this investment in Ohio or Indiana, and that we needed adequate electricity and water to power the paper mill, and he moved mountains to make it happen in Kentucky — so we’re opening this mill today because of Governor Beshear’s leadership. He’s the greatest governor in these United States of America.”

Pratt also has a long relationship with President Joe Biden, having invited the then-vice president to dinner at his home during Biden’s 2016 Australian visit. Back in 2013, during the Obama administration, Pratt appointed a former US ambassador to his advisory board.

Most recently, in November 2022 Victorian Environment Minister Lily D’Ambrosio was forced to defend a Labor Party fundraiser hosted by Pratt while a tender process for Victoria’s $500 million container deposit scheme was underway. Pratt, naturally enough, would win.

It seems that in Australia and increasingly the US, where money flows between business and politics — both soft and hard — the Pratts are there.

Sign up to read this article
Read news from 100’s of titles, curated specifically for you.
Already a member? Sign in here
Related Stories
Top stories on inkl right now
One subscription that gives you access to news from hundreds of sites
Already a member? Sign in here
Our Picks
Fourteen days free
Download the app
One app. One membership.
100+ trusted global sources.