"There can be no suggestion that Visy acted in ignorance of its obligations under the act"
Ryszard Przecicki was born in the Free City of Danzig (present-day Gdańsk, Poland) to Jewish parents Leon and Paula on 10 December 1934. His family immigrated to Australia in 1938 seeking safe refuge from the Nazis and settled in Shepparton, Victoria, changing their surname from Przecicki to Pratt. Pratt had a rough journey travelling to Australia without getting caught by the Nazis. The family faced food shortages en route. Pratt was educated at Grahamvale Primary School, Shepparton High School and University High School and enrolled in a Bachelor of Commerce degree at the University of Melbourne in 1953. He played Australian rules football, as a ruckman. After starting his career at Lemnos (now the Shepparton Swans), Pratt played for Carlton in the Victorian Football League's (VFL) under-19s competition. He was awarded the Morrish Medal in 1953 for being deemed the "best and fairest" U-19 player that year. Pratt did not continue his footballing career to senior VFL level, instead focusing on other interests.
Pratt combined study with acting with the Union Theatre Repertory Company and working as salesman for the family Business, Visy Board. After touring London and New York in 1957 with a production of Ray Lawler's Summer of the Seventeenth Doll, playing the role of Johnnie Dowd, he returned to Melbourne and Visy. Following the death of his Father Leon in February 1969 Pratt took over his father's Business, which at that time had several hundred employees and an annual turnover of A$5 million.
In 1959, Richard Pratt married Jeanne (née Lasker), a Journalist, who was also a Jewish immigrant from Poland and was born in the town of lowich in Poland 1936, and before their marriage lived in Sydney. After the success of Visy Industries, they enjoyed a lavish lifestyle, with a private jet and a range of apartments, including a penthouse at the Sherry-Netherland Hotel in New York City; their main home was the historic mansion Raheen, in the Melbourne suburb of Kew, the former residence of Roman Catholic Archbishop Daniel Mannix. The Pratts have had three children, Anthony, Heloise Waislitz, who was married to businessman and Collingwood Football club Vice President Alex Waislitz, and Fiona Geminder.
He donated A$10 million every year through the Pratt Foundation to refugees, artists and others. The Foundation was established in 1978 by Jeanne and Richard Pratt as a vehicle for their philanthropy. During the 1980s and 1990s, the Pratts became known in Australia for funding the arts, medical research and higher education. Since then the Pratt family has donated about A$200 million to worthy causes.
Pratt was appointed an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO) in 1985, and a Companion of the Order (AC) in 1998. Jeanne Pratt is also an AC recipient. However, he returned his awards in February 2008 after he was fined $36 million for price fixing.
Also in the 1990s, Visy was ordered by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) to pay a half million dollar fine for illegal anti-competitive behaviour.
In 1993 the National Crime Authority (NCA) raided Pratt's offices in connection with an investigation into businessman John Elliott's foreign exchange dealings and Elliott's spoiling domestic stake in Broken Hill Proprietary Company (BHP, now BHP Billiton) while Elliott's company, Elders IXL, was insolvent. The following year, NCA paid costs and returned documents seized.
In 1996 an investigation by The Australian newspaper documented from internal company documents that Pratt maintained a multimillion-dollar network of advisors. This included an $8,333.33 a month fee to Bob Hawke for consultation on "Asian and government matters", $27,220.03 for travel to the US for Gough Whitlam as Business advisor on overseas markets, and other sums for former state premiers Nick Greiner and Rupert Hamer.
Another daughter, Paula, was born in 1997 to his longtime mistress, socialite Shari-Lea Hitchcock. In 2000 this affair became the subject of widespread media attention owing to a court case involving Ms Hitchcock and a nanny hired to look after her daughter. At the time, Pratt was accused of trying to pay hush money to the nanny who had launched legal action against Ms Hitchcock.
In December 2005 the ACCC commenced a civil penalty proceeding against Visy companies, Pratt, and others, for alleged involvement in a cartel in the packaging industry.
On 16 May 2007, he was awarded the Woodrow Wilson Medal for Corporate Citizenship. This is given to executives who "by their examples and their Business practices, have shown a deep concern for the Common good beyond the bottom line. They are at the forefront of the idea that private firms should be good citizens in their own neighborhoods and in the world at large".
On 19 June 2008, Pratt was charged with lying about his knowledge of a price-fixing scandal. Pratt had been facing four separate charges under Section 5 of the Act, the penalty for each charge ranges from a fine of $2,200 to 12 months' jail.
On 27 April 2009, this Criminal prosecution of Pratt for charges of impropriety (lying to the ACCC during its successful investigation into the Visy/Amcor price fixing scandal) were abandoned on account of his poor health and impending death. However, Commonwealth Prosecutor Mark Dean SC told the Federal Court the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions (CDPP) believed the prosecution would have succeeded. Pratt died the following day.
In April 2010, to mark the first anniversary of his death, the inaugural Richard Pratt Memorial Oration was delivered at the University of Melbourne by the President of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Professor Menahem Ben-Sasson. During the oration, Pratt was posthumously awarded an honorary Doctorate of Philosophy from Hebrew University.