Sunday, June 3, 2012

Does Not Play Well With Others

Gina Rinehart is the world's richest woman, and from all accounts, a mean businesswoman, a mean daughter, a mean mother, a mean negotiator. Let's just cut through the exploratory musings, offer no benefit of the doubt, and call it: Gina is a Mean Girl.

Known as Gina, Georgina Hope Rinehart was until quite recently, a private soul, best known for her fourteen year long legal battle with her stepmother, the flamboyant Rose Hancock Porteous, for control of her father's mining interests. It was just one of those family things. Rose was Lang Hangcock's exotic widow, Gina is his intelligent, ambitious daughter. Rose was about beauty and grace, Gina was about results and success.. Gina kept control of Hancock Prospecting Pty Ltd. Rose remarried with indecent, inglorious haste.

But while all this was going on, Gina was running her late father's company. She had four children from two marriages, a degree in economics and a nice big mining boom to ride.

Ride it she did, reaching billionaire status in 2006, riding some impressive Rich Lists along the way. The GFC was, in it's way, kinder to some than others. Mining operators fared particularly well, and Gina emerged ahead of the pack. Australia's Richest Person soon became the World's Richest Woman.

But back in 2007, just before the GFC, the conservative Howard Government was comprehensively rolled by Kevin-oh-Seven, and Gina's world was about to change. The new government started questioning the right of private companies to keep the all of the profits they made from mining Austalian land. Add to that the Greatest Moral Challenge of our time - Climate Change - and Gina had a few new challenges to face.

The Mining Resource Rent Tax was the Government's answer to sharing some of the national windfall from the mining boom, yet signalled the end of Kevin Rudd's Prime Ministership, and the beginning of one of the most bizarre sights in Australian history: billionaire mining magnates joining a public protest against a Great Big New Tax. Protests continued, and new PM Julia Gillard negotiated a less ballsy version of the tax.

Compared to her cosy symbiotic relationship with the Coalition, it appeared that after a decade-plus of Howard largesse, Australia might have a government willing to stand up to big end of town. There were other magnates protesting - Clive Palmer, Twiggy Forest - and other issues, most notably the Carbon Tax, but it was Gina who stood out during the protests against the MRRT. Perhaps it was her femininity in a sea of hi-viz hard-hatted blokeness? Her income is obscene, yet her effective tax rate is a fraction of yours and mine. Still, Gina had the balls to protest a tax which be applied only to part of her company's profits. Just how mean is mean?

Mean enough to sustain fourteen years of legal action against her stepmother. Mean enough to decide her own children are too dumb to control their own money, mean enough go to court to maintain control of her (adult) children's inheritances. Mean enough to rip her own family apart.

The Family Inheritance

In what looks like an inexplicable case of Mean Mother, Gina took it upon herself to monkey around with some details of the inheritance left to her own four children. The Herald Sun summarised on May 9:

The Supreme Court has heard today that Australia's richest person changed the vesting date of the 1988 family Trust on April 30, from 2068 to now.

That means that the children, as beneficiaries, are entitled to their share of the dividends of the family's primary company Hancock Prospecting - but it is understood the change of the vesting date could result in tax complications.

Ms Rinehart's three eldest children - John, Bianca and Hope - launched court action last September, just after their younger sister Ginia's 25th birthday which was supposed to make the vesting of the Trust. 

A series 80s glamour-soapie-esque revelations kept the family business in the headlines.
  • Gina's assertion that her children aren't capable of managing their money;
  • the married daughter, begging for funds so that she could pay for the necessary cook, housekeeper and bodyguard to enhance her cushy New York lifestyle;
  • Gina's plea that her three rogue children cease their efforts to get control of the funds because it might may them look greedy; 
  • the loyal youngest child, Ginia;
  • the bizarre involvement of Nationals Senator Barnaby Joyce and Liberal MP Alby Schulz;
  • Gina's absolute determination - and subsequent failure - to keep the story from becoming public property.
And even if Gina's actions are all conceived with the best of intentions, she and her family appear to have all the dignity of an Aaron Spelling-penned bitchfight. The lawyers will continue to cash in, with more court appearances scheduled for July.

Roy Hill

Out of a clear autumn sky just a few weeks ago, Australians learned that our government - a Labor Government - has approved a plan whereby Gina can recruit up to 1700 foreign workers on 457 Enterprise Migration Agreements for her new 9.5 billion dollar iron ore mine at Roy Hill. There's no requirement for those 1700 positions to be advertised in Australia, and nothing like enough detail for us to decide just how concerned we should be.

At least we know that the 1700 imported workers will account for only about 20% of the projected peak workforce at Roy Hill. According to union boss Paul Howes, 130,000 Australian manufacturing jobs have disappeared in the last 5 years. Immigration Minister Chris Bowen justified the decision by doubting the willingness of skilled Australian workers to move to the  I can't help but wonder if maybe an investment in tempting East Coast Aussies to head west would have made more political sense.

Prime Minister Gillard was out of the country when the deal became public, and since returning, she's flip flopped around the issue like a fresh fish on a jetty. It's a nice show of support for Mean Gina from the Labor Government; a government founded on a national rejection of WorkChoices, and a promise to protect Australian workers. It's not so great if you're an Australian worker or union boss, or possibly the Australian Prime Minister.


Roy Hill isn't the only Hancock property with a likely part-foreign workforce. The multi-billion dollar Alpha North mine in Queensland is a joint venture between Gina's company and an Indian group, GVK. Approved just last week by Queensland's mines-friendly Newman Government, North Alpha is already controversial. The Courier Mail ended their story with this little gem, only hinting at dissatisfaction with the idea that the Roy Hill EMA situation could be repeated on the East Coast.

Several Labor MPs, including Treasurer Wayne Swan, said constituents had complained they could not get a foot in the door for a job in the sector.

 A few days later, Alpha is in the news again, with reports in the Brisbane Times that Hancock Coal's relationship with the Newman Government and Queensland's Coordinator-General Barry Roe are even more comfortable than suspected. The project approval included 128 environmental conditions, but has failed to meet federal requirements, despite agreeing to at the recent COAG meeting. Scrutiny on Alpha North and Gina's relationship with state and federal governments will continue, particularly after UNESCO's verdict this week that Australian Governments must take action to protect the Great Barrier Reef from the potentially devastating effects of mining.

Federal Environment Minister Tony Burke has already called the approval process diabolic because it failed to complete required federal assessments on the project.

Now Greenpeace has leaked an email from a staff member of Mr Roe to the federal environment department, written five days before the mine was approved.

In the email, obtained by AAP, the staffer admits that the coordinator general "was still a long way short of what you are looking for", referring to not assessing federal environmental approval process.
Despite all of this, Gina seems to be winning every one of her battles. Is it power? Is it control? Is it a pathological need to have more and more and more, regardless of the cost to her family relationships and reputation? Is it the human embodiment of "She with the most toys, wins"?

It's probably all of those things, but it's still mean. Gina might win, but she does not play well with others

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