Executive Chairman of Hancock Prospecting
Born in: Perth
Foes: Wayne Swan | Rose Porteus | Much of her family
Home Town: Perth
If money talks, then no one in Australia shouts louder than Gina Rinehart, who is now a billionaire 17 times over.
But is anybody listening—apart from Wayne Swan—and can she use her massive fortune to buy influence over two of Australia's most famous newspapers?
The Power Index reckons the answer is no—or not yet—despite her recent raid on Fairfax Media, which has left the mining magnate with just under 13% of the group's shares, to put alongside her 10% share of Network Ten.
But Big G is a determined and powerful woman. And the fact she's trying so hard to have her say is enough for us to put her at No. 3 on our list of Rich Crusaders, as does the fact she's spent six months and buckets of cash trying to block the details of her bitter family dispute from ending up in the media.
Naturally enough, her Holy Grail is to win a sympathetic hearing for her fellow iron and coal billionaires, who create jobs and wealth for Australia, at whatever cost to the environment and the planet.
Gina is famously a sceptic on global warming and a bitter opponent of carbon and mining taxes. It was she who jumped on the back of a truck at last year's anti-mining-tax rally in Perth and led the chants of "Axe the Tax". It was she (and John Singleton) who threatened a big ad campaign against the tax in 2010 (and has helped bankroll two others). It was also she who funded climate-change denier Lord Monckton's early 2010 Australian tour. Rinehart even revived her father Lang Hancock's lecture at Notre Dame University in Fremantle so his Lordship could deliver it.
But the key to success or failure in Gina's campaign to make Australia safe for mining magnates will be whether she can win the battle for hearts and minds at Fairfax.
Last week, the Iron Lady was given a tour of Fairfax's Sydney office, where she reportedly asked for a seat on the media group's board. But even if she gets what she wants, we doubt she will change the editorial policies of the Sydney Morning Herald or The Age, however much she throws her weight around with her fellow directors.
For a start, it's not in the papers' commercial interests to be a cheerleader for miners and big polluters, because their readers would desert in droves. Even if it were, Fairfax has a long and proud tradition of journalistic independence from its proprietors that will be extremely hard for anyone to overturn.
Kerry Packer had a similar stake in the media group for much of the 1990s, but, apart from scaring the pants off several journalists he was keen to sack, he never had any effect on how the newspapers were run. More recently, John B Fairfax dumped a similar stake in the company because he had so little influence.
So the next question may be whether Gina is prepared to move to a full takeover. Certainly, money would be no barrier to this: with Fairfax capitalised at $1.75 billion, Rinehart could buy the company several times over (and pay a premium) and still have billions of dollars in change.
But she would surely face a huge public outcry before she could take control. And, faced with the mother and father of all fights, we seriously doubt she could succeed.
The Power Index can see Malcolm Fraser and Gough Whitlam joining hands once again on stage at Darling Harbour, as they did in the early 1990s to oppose Packer's takeover of Fairfax, and can envisage a fierce campaign by journalists and sympathetic politicians to stop her getting her way.
A second possibility is for Rinehart to find another way to make her money speak, for example, by persuading the board to unload some of its newspapers, while they hang on to the websites. But this is a long shot too, because the printed papers and websites feed off the same stories, rely on the same journalists and appear to be inextricably linked.
We're not so sure about the Australian Financial Review, whose new editor Michael Stutchbury (ex The Australian) is already running a line on industrial relations that Rinehart and her fellow billionaires would applaud. The AFR also rode into battle for her last week, branding Wayne Swan's famous recent attack as a "rant" and "class warfare" and praising the trio of billionaires for making Middle Australia "more prosperous than it has ever been". So perhaps it wouldn't make much difference if she did win control.
Certainly it would be fun to watch Rinehart trying to run a newspaper. She may be brilliant at finding and developing big iron and coal deposits, but she has no idea how the media works, no love for journalists, and a talent for getting into fights: with her father, her stepmother and her children, among others. She also appears have trouble taking advice. If she were better, she would not have screwed up so badly in the ugly court battle with her children over the family billions. (She lost her final attempt to win a suppression order last Friday.)
Nevertheless, Gina's raid on the Ten network has paid dividends, even if she has already lost half her $165 million investment. She has helped install right-wing megaphone Andrew Bolt, whom she greatly admires, in his new Sunday morning show, and she's got loudmouth Kiwi shockjock and former NZ National Party candidate, Paul Henry, as host of Ten's new breakfast program.
But it's been easy to get things done at Ten because James Packer and Lachlan Murdoch, who are fellow shareholders, are big Bolt fans, and Packer shares many of Rinehart's political views.
Clearly, her old mate John Singleton thinks it's been a success, telling Good Weekend with typical frankness that he and Rinehart, "Have been able to overtly and covertly attack governments ... because we have people employed by us like Andrew Bolt and Alan Jones and Ray Hadley who agree with her thinking about the development of our resources, we act in concert in that way.''
Back in 2010, Rinehart was one of the key backers of Singo's short-lived Keep Australia Afloat Foundation, which promised a huge campaign against the mining tax and was said to have $6 million in its coffers. But he has been her confidante for four decades, and was a friend of her father, Lang Hancock, before that.
It was Lang—a notorious anti-Communist and friend of Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen—whose 1979 polemic, "Wake up Australia", identified the need to "limit the power of government", by "obtaining control of the media and then educating the public".
Gina shares many of Lang's crazy beliefs, including his scheme for using a nuclear bomb to carve out a new harbour in NW Australia, although perhaps not his idea to collect Aborigines and half-castes in one place, dope the water and sterilise them so they would "breed themselves out".
"A conversation with Gina was a conversation with Lang," says Singleton. "They both had the same fanaticism."
Loopy Lang eventually started his own newspaper, The Sunday Independent, but found he couldn't get journalists to write what he wanted.
And Gina may well face the same problem if she ever buys a media group or wins control. As Kevin Rudd recently discovered, you can't exercise power for long in this country unless you can bring people along with you, and in the media there are an awful lot of people you have to bring: editors, journalists, politicians, and above all, consumers.
For all her billions and undoubted passion, Rinehart shows no sign of having the skills to do that.
* This article was amended on March 21 to say that Rinehart funded Lord Monckton's early 2010 speaking tour of Australia, rather than Lord Monckton's 'recent Australia tour' (he returned in 2011).