Premier Investments chair Solomon Lew (left) is an Australian billionaire who saw his wealth increase over the pandemic. Picture: NCA NewsWire/Daniel Pockett
Premier Investments chair Solomon Lew (left) is an Australian billionaire who saw his wealth increase over the pandemic. Picture: NCA NewsWire/Daniel Pockett

Billionaires’ wealth booms despite COVID

Australia's mega rich have been shielded from the economic hit caused by the coronavirus pandemic, with a slew of billionaires reporting increases in their personal wealth.

According to Bloomberg's Billionaire's Index, the nation's most wealthy saw their individual fortunes rise 86.4 per cent compared to one year ago, eclipsing the performance of the mega wealthy in the United States, China and the United Kingdom.

Increases in commodity prices such as iron ore during the pandemic helped mining magnates such as Gina Rinehart and Andrew Forrest to double their wealth over 2020.

However, a number of billionaires behind companies that took JobKeeper benefits and posted profit jumps during the pandemic have reported significant boosts to their personal wealth.

Labor MP Andrew Leigh believes companies should be made to hand back government assistance to the taxpayer if profits were reported during the pandemic.

Shadow assistant treasurer Andrew Leigh says company’s should pay back JobKeeper if profits were made during the pandemic. Picture: Joel Carrett/AAP
Shadow assistant treasurer Andrew Leigh says company’s should pay back JobKeeper if profits were made during the pandemic. Picture: Joel Carrett/AAP

He has taken aim at Harvey Norman and Premier Investments, which collectively took in more than $90m in JobKeeper benefits and have made no public indication of returning the funds.

"Since COVID hit, the typical Aussie billionaire has seen their wealth almost double, and at least 11 of them are significant shareholders in firms that received JobKeeper and used it to pay dividends," Dr Leigh said.

"At the same time, Australian workers were laid off or saw their hours slashed. Right now, a million Australians are out of work and another million want more hours on the job.

A number of public companies such as Domino's, Super Retail Group and Nick Scali have committed to returning JobKeeper payments to the Australian Taxation Office.

Rich List data from The Australian, shows Harvey Norman chair Gerry Harvey increased his wealth from $2.91bn from 2.32bn over the 12 months.

Harvey Norman over the course of the pandemic received $22m in JobKeeper payments, which were mostly administered to individual franchises that met the turnover clause to access the scheme.

Gerry Harvey’s personal wealth increased to $2.91bn from $2.32bn. Picture: Sam Ruttyn
Gerry Harvey’s personal wealth increased to $2.91bn from $2.32bn. Picture: Sam Ruttyn

At its latest half-yearly results, Harvey Norman confirmed gang buster sales had led to a net profit of $462m, a more than 116 per cent rise compared to the prior half-year result.

Premier Investments announced on Wednesday it would retain JobKeeper payments despite booking a major profit boost. It said the funds would be kept while the threat of store closures from COVID-19 lockdowns persisted.

Billionaire Solomon Lew, who is chair of Premier Investments, saw his individual wealth jump from $2.51bn to $2.7bn over the past 12 months.

Premier Investments confirmed none of its JobKeeper benefits had gone towards paying executive bonuses or dividends.

AP Eagers director and Sydney Roosters chair Nick Politis also recorded a rise in his wealth from $2.11bn to $2.12bn.

The national car dealership took in more than a $130m in JobKeeper payments over 2020 and reversed its loss in the prior year to a statutory net profit position of $156.2m.

Originally published as Billionaires' wealth booms despite COVID


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