Circles

Twiggy's got friends in high places

You don't become one of Australia's richest men without making friends in pretty high places. And West Australian resources entrepreneur Andrew Forrest certainly has some good ones.

That's not to say the billionaire rock kicker doesn't have any enemies -- we're certain he does. But the man they call Twiggy has built a reputation (and a mining empire) around being a likable, knockabout bloke. A businessman who can charm anyone when he wants to.

So, just who are some of Andrew Forrest's friends? And what have they done for him lately?

Kevin Rudd (former prime minister, now minister for foreign affairs): KRudd and Forrest have had a vexed relationship over the years. The pair were considered close friends before Twiggy went to war last year with the former Rudd government over the mining super profits tax.

Forrest's push, helped along by a few of his loud mining friends, eventually helped lead to Rudd's removal from office. But back before the tax stoush, the two were on much better terms.

The iron ore magnate attended the first 20/20 Summit, while Rudd helped launch and fund Twiggy's GenerationOne project, praising him effusively for the miner's ambitious initiative to create 50,000 indigenous jobs.

They even both attended the infamous Brian Burke dinner in 2005, which prompted former Treasurer Peter Costello to label anyone who dealt with Burke as "politically and morally corrupt".

Alannah MacTiernan (former minister for planning and infrastructure in WA Labor government): While not necessarily personal friends, the two are at least on the same wavelength politically. As infrastructure minister, MacTiernan helped turned the first sod on FMG's long awaited Pilbara railway -- which Forrest was forced to build after BHP and Rio Tinto refused access to their network.

In return, a gracious Forrest went so far as to name his first piece of rolling stock after the minister (the 'Alannah MacTiernan Express'). A favour which was reciprocated when a newly-constructed highway championed by MacTeiernan was named after Forrest's great-great uncle and WA's first premier, Sir John Forrest.

Peter Collier (minister for indigenous affairs in WA Liberal government): Collier told a community radio station recently he was a personal friend of Forrest who took "guidance and great advice from his wisdom''.

Fortescue is currently locked in a courtroom battle with Pilbara-based native title group the Yindjibarndi Aboriginal Corporation over the construction of its new Solomon iron ore mining project. As indigenous affairs minister, Collier, has the power to grant FMG an exemption from the state's Aboriginal Heritage Act, based on the advice of the Aboriginal Cultural Material Committee.

Despite criticism from the WA opposition and the native title group, Collier says his relationship with Forrest is inconsequential: "With regards to section 18 applications or any other such issues, I have never and I never would discuss such issues, particularly given the fact that there is an application on the part of FMG."

John Howard (former prime minister): A long-time fan of the effervescent miner, Howard once described Twiggy as the most "self-evidently enthusiastic and dedicated managing director" he'd ever met.

High praise indeed from the then-PM, who even flew out West in 1999 to open Forrest's Anaconda laterite nickel mine -- even though it wasn't fully working at the time.

When Anaconda went bust, Howard stayed in contact with Twiggy and was apparently even employed as a ruse by Forrest to pressure Chinese bureaucratic into backing an FMG project.

James Packer (billionaire businessman): Forget any competition between the two over becoming Australia's richest man, Packer and Forrest have been mates for some time.

Packer is reportedly an investor in FMG and even invited Forrest to France for his Cote d'Azur wedding a few years ago. As well as doing business together, the notoriously-media shy casino mogul has also made a point of publicly supporting Twiggy's GenerationOne project.

At a panel held at Crown Casino recently, Packer said his casinos would aim to employ 2000 indigenous Australians by 2021 under Forrest's plan.

The two share a common history rare amongst Australian billionaires, in that they both spent time as a jackaroo when they were younger -- Forrest at Mindaroo in the Pilbara and Packer on his father's Northern Territory cattle station.

Brian Burke (former WA Labor premier, political powerbroker and lobbyist): Again, the relationship with Burke was probably more professional than personal, but you don't cut your teeth in WA Inc's business circles without learning the value of dealing with panama hat-wearing Burke and offsider Julian Grill.

When it was still fashionable to do so, Forrest kept the pair on the FMG payroll as lobbyists to help his mining ventures ease their way through red tape.

At Burke's appearance in front of West Australian Corruption and Crime Commission hearings in 2007, Forrest's name came up multiple times over an accusation of leaked information regarding Fortescue's Pilbara railway line.

Julie Bishop (deputy leader of the opposition): One of the most powerful women in federal politics, well-connected West Australian convert Julie Bishop is a favourite with big business in Perth. And also with Twiggy, after she donned the high-viz last year to join his campaign to bring down the mining super profits tax.

Cathy Freeman (athlete): During his time as chairman of Athletics Australia in the early 2000s, there was no bigger star in the country than Cathy Freeman. And when Cathy won gold in Sydney, first on to the track to congratulate her was an overjoyed Forrest.

Australia's Olympic golden girl also lent her name to Forrest's charity and has appeared alongside him at a number of GenerationOne launches.

Herb Elliot (former athlete, current FMG deputy chairman): Another hangover from Forrest's days in athletics, Elliot was a board member of Athletics Australia and an early investor in Fortescue.

The champion miler eventually became chairman of the mining company, before Forrest moved to that position earlier this year. He also has port used to ship FMG iron ore named after him near Port Hedland.

Mark Barnaba (corporate adviser): The well-connected corporate adviser and former West Coast Eagles chairman they call "Mr Perth" has been taking on a number of directorships out West recently, including with Fortescue Metals Group.

Forrest has also been a long-time client of Barnaba's former firm Azure Capital, both through FMG and Anaconda Nickel.

Rupert Murdoch (billionaire media owner), Kerry Stokes (billionaire businessman), Lindsay Fox (billionaire businessman): Three incredibly powerful businessman, all of which have lent much-needed financial and public muscle to Forrest's indigenous employment project. Murdoch even flew out to help launch GenerationOne last year.


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