I didn’t say anything about the career of Kerry Packer on his death, because I think it’s reasonable at such a time for family and friends to have an opportunity to mourn or celebrate the departed without interruption from others. However, state memorial services are another matter. The provision of such a service, at public expense, implies that the person concerned has done substantial service to the public.
I’m not aware of any such service in Packer’s case. He was a man of great wealth and power, but he used his position almost entirely to accumulate more wealth and more power. Although the bulk of his wealth came from government-created licenses to print money (TV stations and casinos) he boasted of paying as little tax as he could. As Andrew Leigh notes, claims of great philanthropic activity also don’t stand up. Most stories of his generosity seem to reflect the grandiose largesse of the ‘big man’, also reflected in high-rolling gambling, rather than any real concern to do good.
In doing all this, Packer was no better and no worse than plenty of other people in business. The commentary on his death said that he was a good father despite having a miserable childhood himself, and obviously plenty of people liked and admired him. But if those were the criteria, we’d be having state funerals every day.
Packer justified his own tax minimisation by objecting to the waste of public money. Giving a memorial service to someone solely for starting out rich and getting a lot richer is a prime example.
fn1. There are exceptions. In 1953, Frank Packer’s Telegraph memorably, and rightly, ran the headline Stalin is dead. Hooray