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Issue #1554      4 July 2012

Gina Rinehart follows in her father’s footsteps

Mining magnate Gina Rinehart, Australia’s richest person, is still wrestling to gain control of Fairfax Media, which publishes the Sydney Morning Herald, Melbourne’s Age and the Australian Financial Review.


Gina Rinehart

She now owns about 19 percent of Fairfax shares. She is demanding at least two seats on the Fairfax board, and wants the board to exert editorial control, as in Rupert Murdoch’s firm News of the World.

Fairfax employees are determined to retain editorial control, independent of pressure from members of the board, as stipulated in the charter of editorial independence signed by the Board and staff in 1991.

Some commentators have questioned Rinehart’s tactics. After all, many readers of Fairfax journals are attracted to the left-wing or progressive stand of some of their contributors. A swerve to the right, certain to happen under Rinehart’s control, could result in falling sales.

But Rinehart’s primary objective is to minimise criticism of her company’s mining operations, and to maximise editorial opposition to the federal government’s proposed super profits and carbon taxes.

The retraction of these taxes, or even a reduction in their impact on her companies, would counter any loss of readership or profits which might result from changing the Fairfax policy of editorial independence.

In 2010 Rinehart was key speaker at a small but well-publicised rally against the super profits tax. Within two weeks Kevin Rudd was ousted as Prime Minister and the tax was watered down. Some commentators, including Fairfax journalists, have implied that this happened because of Rinehart’s political influence.

The stated objective of the carbon tax is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and help mitigate climate change. Rinehart’s industries are big emitters, and not surprisingly, she denies that climate change results from human industry. In contrast, the Fairfax press accepts that it does, and often backs this view with reports from top-ranking scientists.

In retaliation, Rinehart has sponsored lecture trips by arch climate change deniers such as the odious Lord Monckton. Gaining editorial control of Fairfax publications would allow her to soothe public concern over climate change, thereby countering the political forces that are calling for action to reduce industrial greenhouse gas emissions.

Like father like daughter

Some idea about her political position is indicated by the views of her father, the late Lang Hancock.

She does not, apparently, agree with his neo-fascist opinion with regard to Indigenous Australians i.e. that someone should “dope the water so that they were sterile and would breed themselves out”. Nor does she agree with his idea that under certain conditions Western Australia should secede from the Commonwealth.

However, in other respects she shares her father’s ideology, and her approach differs only in terms of tactics. She would doubtless agree with his declaration that Western Australia should have “a constitution that limits the power of government to win elections by buying voters with promises of huge handouts to the population.”

Hancock was just as determined as Rinehart to influence the course of politics via the mass media. He set up his own newspaper in Perth in the early 1970s, but it collapsed, in large part because of his long-winded, ranting editorials.

Not to be outdone, he soon established a second paper, reasoning that low profits or even losses would be compensated by the journal’s assistance in getting sympathetic state or federal governments elected.

Rinehart shares her father’s zeal for the establishment of a special economic zone in northern Australia, in which payment of income tax would be deferred for decades – for the benefit of the nation, of course.

The softly-spoken bully

In terms of her emotional life Rinehart comes across as desperately poor. An only child, she attended business meetings with her father from the age of eight, and her life has been absolutely dominated by the obsessive pursuit of wealth. She lives under security guard in a house that has been described as luxurious but almost without works of art.

Softly spoken and with a polished accent, she has crossed swords with hundreds of people, including members of her immediate family. One of her security officers, who once accused her of sexual harassment, described her as “incredibly lonely and isolated.”

But don’t feel sorry for her. The incessant greed and arrogance of capitalism has shaped her politics.

Her political idols include free-market economist Milton Friedman, arch-conservative physicist Edward Teller, former Queensland premier Jo Bjelke-Petersen, and former British prime minister, Margaret Thatcher.

A fierce adversary, her frequent resort to litigation has muted criticism of her exploits in the mass media. Her many adversaries have included BHP, numerous lawyers, and the children of Hancock’s former business partner.

In a covert move she recently prevented three of her four children from inheriting shares in the family company Hancock Prospecting until 2068. They are now battling her in court.

It is said that she regards them as members of the “undeserving rich”, not worthy to bear the heavy responsibilities associated with great wealth. That’s reminiscent of her father’s opinion of her second husband, the disgraced New York attorney Frank Rinehart whom she married in 1983.

Hancock’s antipathy to her husband led to severe disagreements. Shortly after the death of her mother several years later, he remarried. Gina considered his new wife Rose a fortune hunter, and litigation between father and daughter erupted.

She was subsequently ejected from the company’s affairs. However, Rinehart and Hancock made up just before his death in 1992, after which she took Hancock’s widow Rose to court in a battle over the inheritance. She also made allegations against her. This prompted a coronial inquest. The inquest failed to find Rose guilty of foul play.

And that’s the sort of person that’s currently trying to gain control of Fairfax Media. Metaphorically speaking, the nation needs that like it needs a hole in the head.  

Next article – Obamacare: More than a victory

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