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PM Chucks in magic money man

Resource type: News

The Gold Coast Bulletin (Australia) |

By Peter Cameron PRIME Minister Kevin Rudd is courting Australia’s richest to take up where the federal Budget largesse left off. Mr. Rudd left little to chance. He enlisted Irish-American philanthropist Chuck Feeney to twist the tails of the rich and famous. Mr. Feeney was an inspired, discreet choice while the PM prepared for his publicity sideshow trips to Japan and surrounds. Mr. Feeney’s donations to medical research in Queensland are approaching $400 million. Even though the diminutive former sandwich man and Korean War veteran is 73 next birthday he still is open to donation ideas while he funds Vietnamese medical students through Australian universities. Mr. Rudd obviously has his sights on a $1 billion philanthropy war chest. The billion bucks is not an unrealistic target. Some US universities receive that much in donations every year. It is just a matter of how long it takes in Australia and how persuasive Chuck Feeney can prove in his annual visits to his Australian base in Brisbane. The PM’s philanthropy targets certainly were not detailed in any official communiques from the PM’s office. Mr. Rudd and wife Therese have dined and wined Mr. Feeney and wife Helga in Sydney and Canberra recently. The Kirribilli lunch appointment included Professor Ian Frazer, driving force behind the Gardasil cervical cancer vaccine for females. But Mr. Rudd really turned on the political firepower at The Lodge on the last Saturday night in May when the Feeneys headed a table of 17, including Perth television tycoon Kerry Stokes. Gazals from Melbourne’s rag trade, former Rosemount wines identities the Oatleys and Platinum Asset Management managing director Kerr Neilson also were invited. The Rudds, including eldest son Nick, guests and partners were not served any of the lower-grade wines poured at Government House in Queensland. In addition to supping on the finest from Australian vines, the entree of duck and salad was followed by main courses of lamb or barramundi. Brandy snaps for dessert were the early favourite, although former newsreader Christine Stokes preferred the chef’s fruit salad. Chuck Feeney prepared carefully for his presentation to the PM’s guests. Once reclusive, Mr. Feeney is growing tired of fellow billionaires slow to spread their wealth. “I just know people would get great satisfaction and they’re capable of doing it,” he told a financial reporter in November. Naturally it always is better if all goes smoothly at plush, taxpayer-funded dinners. For instance, The Lodge is an attractive setting and unlikely to scare off the seriously wealthy. The Rudds’ pets bound around the hallways, charming guests as they arrive. Trouble starts only when the chops and the fish are a bit late hitting the table and guests with private planes at Canberra airport are facing curfew problems at return bases such as Melbourne. The pets have to scatter because of the dash to the front door. Kerry and Christine Stokes obviously are not curfew slaves and hung around to enjoy the sweets. But the real stayers proved to be Chuck and Helga Feeney. The Feeneys have since returned to the US. The Irish-American certainly is not your average celebrity. He prefers to travel economy class, did not buy a new suit for his meetings with Mr Rudd in Sydney or Canberra and lives modestly at an apartment when in Brisbane rather than in the penthouse of a five-star hotel or his Couran Cove Resort on Straddie. Mr. Feeney sold out of his DFS (Duty Free Shopper) world empire in the 1996. For a while his $US 8 billion fortune was greater than Donald Trump’s. If our rich and famous are not as generous, Feeney probably will keep writing the cheques himself.

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