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Meet Australia’s greatest philanthropist

Resource type: News

ABC Lateline | [ View Original Source (opens in new window) ]

Irish-American billionaire Chuck Feeney has donated $10 million to Australia’s premiere HIV research institute, the Kirby Institute.

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ALI MOORE, PRESENTER: Tonight in Sydney, Australia’s premiere HIV research institute has been renamed the Kirby Institute in honour of the former High Court justice Michael Kirby.

At that ceremony, it was also announced that a $10 million donation has been given to the institute by Australia’s biggest philanthropist, Irish-American billionaire Chuck Feeney.

Steve Cannane reports.

STEVE CANNANE, REPORTER: This is Australia’s greatest philanthropist. Born in New Jersey, Chuck Feeney made his fortune through duty free stores.

Already he’s given away over $500 million to various institutions in Australia.

CHUCK FEENEY, PHILANTHOPIST: We like to target our money for causes that are current and certainly the idea of the Kirby now under the new structure will be a very important research centre, and so we like to support good researchers.

DAVID COOPER, DIRECTOR, KIRBY INSTITUTE: It’s really marvellous to be able to give us this money. I think he’s such a modest man, as you can see, and the fact that he’s so modest and doesn’t demand any naming rights or anything, which gave us the opportunity to name our institute after Michael Kirby.

STEVE CANNANE: What do you think about this donation by Chuck Feeney?

MICHAEL KIRBY, FORMER HIGH COURT JUDGE: Fabulous! Should be more of them! Australians should get out of the habit of meanness. I mean, we and New Zealanders really at the beginning of the 20th century got used to a welfare society of mutual sharing and government funding, but that really is the old model. We still need money from government, but we also need it from private philanthropists and Chuck Feeney shows the way for Australians.

STEVE CANNANE: Chuck Feeney met on Sunday with the Prime Minister and a group of entrepreneurs to discuss ways Australia could build a culture of philanthropy.

CHUCK FEENEY: As yet they haven’t reached their giving peak, but I feel confident we had discussion on that on Sunday and I feel confident that Australians will wake up to the opportunity and when they wake up, they’ll give.

STEVE CANNANE: Chuck Feeney has already given away over $5 billion across the world. He hopes to give away another $2 billion in the next five years.

MICHAEL KIRBY: He’s also very modest, understated, and he’s not advancing his own ego, he’s doing good things for other people. We should applaud that and be very grateful that as an American he’s spending some of his money in other countries, including our own.

STEVE CANNANE: Chuck Feeney spends a couple of months a year in Queensland. He was introduced to Australia by his friend, the late champion tennis player Ken Fletcher.

While Chuck Feeney has given away billions of dollars, he hates the idea of wasting money on himself. He doesn’t own a house or a car, he always flies economy and he wears a cheap watch.

CHUCK FEENEY: I’m thrifty because I was raised that way, and, as we say, you use a watchband until it wears out and this one is almost worn out now, but it’s still going.

STEVE CANNANE: How much did that watch cost you?

CHUCK FEENEY: I think it was about $14. And it tells time like a Rolex.

STEVE CANNANE: Steve Cannane, Lateline.

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