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Australian iron ore magnate donates $300 million to charity

ROD McGUIRK
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Iron ore mining magnate Andrew Forrest arrives at Australia's Parliament House in Canberra, Monday, May 22, 2017. Forrest said Monday he was donating 400 million Australian dollars ($300 million) to charities in what has been described as a new record in Australian philanthropy. (AP Photo/Rod McGuirk)

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Iron ore mining magnate Andrew Forrest said Monday he was donating 400 million Australian dollars ($300 million) to charities in what has been described as a new record in Australian philanthropy.

Forrest, the 55-year-old chairman of Fortescue Metal Group, and his wife, Nicola, announced the money will be spent on cancer research, Australian university research, supporting disadvantaged people including Aborigines, and fighting slavery around the world.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull described the donations as "the biggest single philanthropic gift in our history and the largest donation by living Australians."

"It is a game-changer in the Australian philanthropic community and it will change the lives of thousands of people here in Australia and around the world," Turnbull told a ceremony at Parliament House.

Forrest, whose fortune was estimated by Forbes magazine this year at $4.3 billion, said the cash donations would be made "both immediately and over the next several months."

"I've been very fortunate with my wife Nicola to be able to accumulate capital and then as soon as we could commence giving it away," Forrest said.

"We had a slightly unsustainable business model previously where we'd actually borrowed money to give it away and fortunately we don't have to do that now thanks to the strength of the iron ore sector," he said.

"I just simply say to all Australians, give what you can and if it isn't money, time is just as valuable," he added.

Sarah Davies, chief executive of Philanthropy Australia, the country's peak body for philanthropy, said Australia did not have the United States' tradition of philanthropy which she described as the "gold standard." But the culture of giving in Australia was changing for the better, she said.

"Why this announcement matters in Australia is that it's the single largest philanthropic commitment in Australia from living donors, and it's part of the trend of more and bigger donations that we've seen in recent years," Davies said in a statement.

"But it's not just about the size of donations, this commitment also shows how philanthropy is becoming more strategic about achieving positive social change, which is all part of how the philanthropic sector in Australia is coming of age," she added.

The previous largest single donation to a charitable fund in Australia was AU$200 million made in 2014 by gambling billionaire James Packer, chairman of Crown Resorts, to be spent on the arts and Aboriginal communities over a decade.

Forrest and his wife were the first Australians to join "The Giving Pledge" movement founded by Microsoft Corp. co-founder Bill Gates and investor Warren Buffett, the head of Berkshire Hathaway Inc. The pledge commits billionaires to donate most of their wealth to charity.