ANDREW ‘Twiggy’ Forrest would have been a deserving Australian of the Year, according to renowned demographer Bernard Salt from KPMG Australia.
“I was very disappointed he didn’t get up; I think he should have,” Mr Salt said of the prominent miner and philanthropist, who won the WA category at the Australian of the Year Awards this year.
Mr Forrest, the non-executive chairman of Fortescue Metals Group, was recognised for devoting “his relentless energy to society’s most vulnerable, tirelessly ending Australia’s indigenous disparity and drawing attention to and liberating 45.8 million people trapped in modern slavery around the world”.
Since the awards announcement, Mr Forrest and wife Nicola made Australia’s largest philanthropic donation of $400 million.
Mr Salt was speaking in his capacity as keynote speaker at the Australia Day WA Being Australian Social Inclusion Symposium: Building Socially Inclusive Communities, held at The University Club of WA.
The demographer, who made international headlines with his tongue-in-cheek comments in a newspaper column last year about young people frittering potential savings on ‘smashed avocado’, believes it is time for a businessman to be named Australian of the Year.
“I do not want to see another Australian Test cricket captain appointed the Australian of the Year,” he said.
The Australian of the Year 2017 is biomedical scientist Emeritus Professor Alan Mackay-sim.
Prominent businessmen Dick Smith and Alan Bond won the award in past decades, while 2011 recipient Simon Mckeon was a prominent investment banker with Macquarie Group who was recognised primarily for his charity work.
Mr Salt’s first choice from the business world would have been the late Paul Ramsay, chairman and founder of private health operator Ramsay Health Care, who left a $3 billion philanthropic bequest when he died in 2014.
Mr Salt said Australia must develop a culture of innovation.
“We are not entrepreneurial, not agile, not enterprising,” he said.
“There is no fire in our belly. We have benefited from complacent prosperity.”
Mr Salt compared Australia’s economic circumstances to those of the USA which, through the likes of Apple, Google, Microsoft, Amazon and Facebook, had created half of its top 10 businesses in one generation. Australia was essentially built on mining, retail and finance, with most of our top companies close to a century old and older.
“We need to create our own big business of the future,” Mr Salt said. Part of the reason is attitudinal. “Americans have admired entrepeneurs and reaped the rewards,” he said.
“I think Australians are fundamentally suspicious of big business. Not everyone in business is a shonk.”
The kind of business ownership Australians needed to aspire to was based on the “right values”: creating wealth, paying taxes and distributing to those who need it.
“That, to me, is the Australian way,” Mr Salt said.