It speaks volumes of the relatively low profile Gina Rinehart has kept that a friend of mine, whose boss was due to meet with her for a very high-level meeting just two years ago mistook her for the sandwich lady and asked for some refreshments.
And if it weren’t for the flurry of media attention that has gravitated toward the mining magnate of late, you might still be asking ‘just who is she exactly’?
She keeps to herself but here’s what we do know: she is Australia’s richest person with an estimated wealth of almost $20 billion (a more recent BRW estimate puts that at $16 billion, depending on iron prices) and if her worth continues to skyrocket at millions of dollars a day as it is said to, she may well be the richest person in the world in the very near future. There’s even talk of breaking through the $100 billion barrier, though that appears to be a guess at best.
And while her story is in itself a one of intrigue, largesse and family court battles, she’s also flexing impressive muscle in Australia’s media landscape, so it might be worth getting used to one Gina Rinehart having more to do with your day-to-day life than ever before.
How does one become a mining magnate anyway?
Gina’s childhood was a perfect storm of elements that would lead her, without any other apparent option, into mining. It was what she knew. Her father Lang Hancock practically stumbled on to the the world’s largest iron ore deposit in the 1950s. He was flying across Western Australia’s Pilbara region when he was forced to divert through a gorge due to bad weather and noticed the ridges were basically iron. It had rusted.
But he would have to lobby for almost a decade to be able to even claim the discovery – or reveal it to anyone – because laws at the time said he couldn’t. Back then it was thought Australia was short on resources and had bugger-all in the ground. We know that’s a flat misfire of the truth nowadays, but it explains why the authorities were skittish in letting anyone else have control over it.
When her father eventually won the right to the land – and its bounty – he signed a deal with mining giant Rio Tinto (then called Hamersley Iron) to develop it and reap the profits. The mine, Hope Downs, regurgitates 30 million tonnes of iron ore annually. Gina, as the controller of the business Hancock Prospecting, receives a hefty cut.
It was this mine and her father’s wealth that Gina stood to inherit as Hancock’s only child (he was worth $150 million when he died) if not for her step-mum Rose Porteous who she famously battled for over a decade in the courts to swing the 50:50 split in her favour.
That inheritance in 1992 (worth $75 million to Rinehart) put her on the BRW rich list for the first time, but it’s what Rinehart did next that truly saw her step from her father’s shadow.
The making of Gina Rinehart
Rinehart didn’t just inflate her wealth by trading on the luck of the iron ore price – at near historic highs. It came as a result of impeccably astute investments in mining, in infrastructure associated with those mines and savvy deals with big miners that can get production underway and foot some of the massive costs involved.
Rinehart’s second iron ore mine follows this model and will start exporting in 2014 … after a $7 billion set-up cost.
She is said to be able to talk about mines and mining relentlessly and knows the ins and outs of the industry like few others. You get the sense she doesn’t just work in mining, but it is her life. Her real child.
Flaws, mines and power
For someone who loves mining so much, it becomes more than an obsession to keep the industry ‘strong’.
Rinehart is fiercely territorial of her industry and practically all her major views in the past – about which she has been vocal – have been geared toward putting politics in favour of the mine. Here’s a snapshot:
1. She campaigned on the back of a truck (wearing pearls) in 2010 against the then proposed Mineral Resources Rent Tax (the so-called mining tax) saying it would ruin the industry.
2. She proposed the use of controlled nuclear explosions in open-cut mining.
3. She is anti-carbon tax and apparently climate change itself as it was Rinehart who funded notorious climate change denier ‘Lord’ Christopher Monckton on his recent Australian speaking tour.
4. Gina Rinehart founded the ‘anti-tax, climate change sceptic’ Australians for Northern Development & Economic Vision (ANDEV).
5. Rinehart is apparently very closely aligned to the views of her father, a dedicated Western Australian who wanted the state to secede from Australia because ‘Canberra centric’ policies were bringing it down.
6. Rinehart has focused on what she says is a labour shortage problem in Australia and has previously said she wants to import cheap Asian workers to work in the mines, a move she says would be ‘humanitarian’ and ‘win-win’.
More recently, in early February, Gina Rinehart penned a poem to put her case about Australia’s future. This is it in full:
The globe is sadly groaning with debt, poverty and strife
And billions now are pleading to enjoy are better life
Their hope lies with resources buried deep within the earth
And the enterprise and capital which give each project worth
Is our future threatened with massive debts run up by political hacks
Who dig themselves out by unleashing rampant tax
The end result is sending Australian investment, growth and jobs offshore
This type of direction is harmful to our core
Some envious unthinking people have been conned
To think prosperity is created by waving a magic wand
Through such unfortunate ignorance, too much abuse is hurled
Against miners, workers and related industries who strive to build the world
Develop North Australia, embrace multiculturalism and welcome short term foreign workers to our shores
To benefit from the export of our minerals and ores
The world’s poor need our resources: do not leave them to their fate
Our nation needs special economic zones and wiser government, before it is too late.
If Gina’s views are conservative, her father’s were ‘somewhere to the right of Paulina Hanson’. Case in point, this video where Lang Hancock suggests a solution to the ‘Aboriginal problem’:
Media on the mind
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a mining magnate in possession of great fortune and cast iron views must be in want of a media organisation.
Which might explain Rinehart’s moves to purchase stakes in Network Ten (she owns 10 per cent). Channel 10 management have stated recently that Rinehart has made no moves to directly influence its coverage of events, but she is said to be responsible for right-wing columnist Andrew Bolt gaining a Sunday morning television show called The Bolt Report.
And now the mining boss has made a move on Fairfax in an attempt to push her stake up to 14 per cent, at a total cost of around $200 million.
But, as the Sydney Morning Herald reported at the weekend, that figure is not only small change but an insurance premium against policies which Rinehart deems may hurt her and her industry.
If you doubted the motivation, this video might convince. It’s a film of a private meeting between clime change denier Lord Monckton and Australian miners last year in which he recommends ‘capturing the news media’ and setting up a TV news channel ‘like Fox News’ to educate the public on free market principals. Watch:
Elizabeth Knight wrote of the bid for Fairfax, quoting Rinehart’s friend John Singleton:
Singleton says Rinehart does not need the money or the influence but believes she will be active in having her say at the board level about the appointment of editors.
”She is frustrated at the negative way Australia is portrayed [by the media] and the fact that mining is portrayed as the big bad wolf and not the saviour … I reckon she wants to have a say but doesn’t make comments in the media because she is not extroverted … it’s not her style.”
There’s certainly no talk of a full takeover yet, but that might be because of Rinehart’s battle in the courts with her own children.
Kids, we’re going to court
Family legal fights are not uncommon in the Hancock / Rinehart lines. The most recent is a protracted court drama between Gina Rinehart and her three eldest children John, Bianca and Hope.
Her youngest, Ginia, is the only child to have sided with Rinehart in proceedings to have her removed as the head of the family trust, which holds a significant portion of the family’s vast wealth.
What we know of the court case so far:
1. Ms Rinehart has battled to keep all details of the case private, though her children have not.
2. Last week a court lifted the suppression order and revealed private emails between Rinehart’s children stating one was down to her ‘last $60,000’ and needed money for bodyguards, safer homes and a chef. The chef should cost no more than $250,000 a year, it was said.
3. Today it has emerged that Ms Rinehart has threatened, through her lawyers, to cancel the ‘ransom protection insurance’ she holds for the family if they don’t agree with her wishes to keep the case private.
That’s a big call from a woman who herself is driven around in bullet-proof cars, is shielded by similar bullet-proof office windows and has a security detail that includes former SAS members.
And that’s the story so far. But it isn’t over yet. Not by a long shot.
Have you been following the Gina Rinehart story? What do you make of her rise to notoriety?