Sir Ron Brierley has pleaded guilty to possession of child sexual abuse material at a Sydney court hearing this morning.
Of the 17 charges faced, Brierley entered pleas of guilty to three charges. The other charges against Brierley were withdrawn.
"My client admits he is in possession of some of the images," his lawyer, Lisa-Claire Hutchinson, told the Downing Centre Local Court, saying there was a dispute over the actual number of images on Brierley's devices.
"The figure, which is particularised on the charges that have been certified and committed for sentence, is in dispute. It is the quantum of the images."
Brierley, 83, appeared in court with two lawyers, a security guard and no one else. Looking frail and walking with a cane for support, his lawyers did the talking.
The case was set down for a fresh hearing on April 30, although it was unclear if that was when sentencing would take place.
After the brief hearing, Brierley donned a surgical face mask before leaving the court. He did not answer questions about his plea and left in a chauffeur-driven car waiting outside the court complex.
Sir Ron Brierley at his home in Sydney in 2020. Photo / David Fisher
The guilty plea has led to calls for Brierley to lose his knighthood.
Stop Demand founder and barrister Denise Ritchie said there was a straightforward process for the Queen's honour to be removed but Brierley should simply resign his knighthood.
"Young lives have been irreparably damaged as a result of this predator's behaviour," said Ritchie. "This is an abhorrent trade in the rape and molestation of children that is fuelled by male demand. It should be denounced in the strongest terms."
Documents released through the Official Information Act show officials in the Cabinet Office have advised the Prime Minister's office of the process that would lead to the loss of Brierley's knighthood.
The three charges to which he pleaded guilty relate to child sex abuse material seized from devices Brierley had in his possession when stopped at Sydney Kingsford Smith Airport in December 2019, and material found during a search of his waterfront Sydney mansion.
The search by the Australian Border Force followed a tip in August that year to New South Wales police.
One charge to which Brierley admitted identified the offending material as including images of children ranging in age from 2 years through to 15 years.
Comment has been sought from Wellington College, which has benefited from Brierley's philanthropy and has facilities bearing his name.
Brierley was preparing to board a flight to Fiji when he was stopped by Australian Border Force officers.
It led to searches of devices at the airport and nearby Mascot police station, and at his mansion in the exclusive Point Piper suburb.
Brierley has been on bail since his arrest, with the same conditions continuing after his guilty plea. Those bail conditions have allowed him to stroll nearby Double Bay and drive around Sydney's eastern suburbs. The Herald recently identified that Brierley still appeared to have internet access with an email emerging from him sent in February 2020.
Brierley has enjoyed a towering role in Australasian business for decades. It was a rise that began in the 1960s as he built a business identifying and then buying into asset-rich companies that offered low return to shareholders.
By the 1980s, Brierley's business had extended beyond New Zealand to Australia, and then on a global footing through the 1990s and onwards. In 1988, while chairman of the Bank of New Zealand, his contribution to business and philanthropy led to a knighthood.