18 Sep 2023

Billionaire Graeme Hart's $700k in donations to right wing parties

7:00 pm on 18 September 2023
(AUSTRALIA OUT) Graeme Hart from Burns Philp, 22 July 2004. AFR NEWS Picture by TANYA LAKE (Photo by Fairfax Media via Getty Images via Getty Images)

Photo: Fairfax Media via Getty Images

Billionaire Graeme Hart has donated $700,000 to parties on the right of the political spectrum in the past two years.

Hart, who is New Zealand's wealthiest man, has donated personally and through Rank Group Limited, a company he is a director and sole shareholder of.

The Rank Group consists of four companies, including Graham Packaging, Pactiv Evergreen, Reynolds Consumer Products and CarterHolt Harvey. It told RNZ it had no comment to make regarding its contributions to political parties.

In total, National has received $400,000, ACT $200,000 and NZ First $100,000 from Hart and his companies.

The latest of these donations were published on the Electoral Commission website during the weekend.

By law, any donations above $15,000 have to be made public. Those under $15,000 do not.

In the past not all donations associated with the Hart family have been above the declarable limit. Hart was questioned by the Serious Fraud Office during the investigation of the New Zealand First Foundation which followed an RNZ investigation.

Newsroom reported donations just under the declarable limit were made in March 2019 to the foundation after a public relations consultant orchestrated a meeting with Hart's son-in-law Duncan Hawkesby and NZ First MP Clayton Mitchell.

An email from the PR consultant with the subject line "re CGT" said Mitchell's stance on a capital gains tax aligned with Hawkesby's. A meeting Hart briefly attended between Hawkesby and Mitchell occurred and three donations of $14,995 were made from different companies aligned with the family.

In April 2019 then Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern confirmed a capital gains tax would not be introduced saying consensus could not be reached between parties in government.

The $100,000 donation published during the weekend to NZ First is the first donation Graeme Hart or the Rank Group has made to party above the declarable limit since the scandal.

The party failed to reach the 5 percent threshold to gain a seat in parliament in the 2020 election but some recent polls suggest it may receive 5 percent of the party vote in 2023. RNZ's poll of polls puts the party at 4.5 percent.

The NBR estimates Hart's wealth at $12 billion.

At an induction to the NZ Business Hall of Fame in 2022 Hart said he left school at 16. A $500 loan from his father, with a $2000 top-up from a bank started his path to business success.

At the event he said today's youth could do as well as he had. "I had a preparedness and an appetite for risk, now that is really important. You can do exactly what I have done."

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