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Degrees of dishonour

By Jonathan J. Ariel - posted Thursday, 6 March 2008

November was not the best of months for Mr Richard Pratt. On November 2, his Visy packaging company was fined $36 million for running a cosy price fixing scam with (what we all thought was rival firm) AMCOR. Since that day, Mr Pratt has had a lot of time to think (about his future) and to wait (and see how the public reacts to his plummet from grace).

And so he thought, and so he waited. In all, he waited 111 days.

During that time, he considered keeping them. And he considered handing them back. After weighing arguments on both sides, and no doubt taking sound advice, the billionaire box baron concluded that surrendering his honours - the Companion of the Order of Australia (AC - 1998) as well as the Officer of the Order of Australia (AO - 1985) - was the least dishonourable course of action.


So one infers from the Australian Financial Review’s political editor, Ms Laura Tingle, in a report: “Pratt forced to lose his two honours.”

Mr Richard Pratt yielded up the two awards on February 21, just as the Councillors administering the Order of Australia honours were switching the kettle on and slicing up some lamingtons, in preparation for a meeting, the point of which was to decide whether or not to strip the convicted colluder of these noble awards.

Several weeks prior to Mr Pratt’s Visy Industries being fined last November, the Governor-General, Michael Jeffrey introduced rules for terminating membership of the Order of Australia on several grounds. The Governor-General is now empowered to cancel or terminate an award on grounds including when a recipient has received a civil penalty under Australian or foreign law; when an adverse finding by an Australian or foreign court is made; or for that matter, bringing the Order into disrepute.

So far so good. Dishonouring Mr Pratt this way has indeed restored credibility to Australia’s highest civil awards.

But what about other honours that have been bestowed on Mr Pratt? Will they too be surrendered? And if not, what does that say about the institutions which have so feted the Kaiser of Cartels?

Good questions.


Lucky for him, Mr Richard Pratt holds honorary degrees from Victoria’s finest institutions: the University of Melbourne (Honorary Doctor of Laws - 2004), Monash University (Honorary Doctorate in Engineering - 1990), as well as Swinburne University of Technology (a generic Honorary Doctorate - 2000). If he held a similar honour from let’s say, the University of Massachusetts (Amherst) or for that matter, from the University of Edinburgh, then I’d wager he wouldn’t be sleeping quite as soundly as he currently is.

Let’s peek into just one Victorian institution, the University of Melbourne. And let’s go back to the winter of 2004.

In August of that year, Mr Richard Pratt was the focus of obsequious fawning by the university. The press release issued by the university gushed of his “very special” contributions, both business and philanthropic to Australia and to the university. In star struck adoration, the university conferred upon Mr Richard Pratt the highest award they possibly could: the Honorary Doctor of Laws.

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About the Author

Jonathan J. Ariel is an economist and financial analyst. He holds a MBA from the Australian Graduate School of Management. He can be contacted at

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