Mining money talks the loudest in Australian politics
When North Queensland Liberal MP George Christensen got the idea of launching a new political organisation to counter what he calls “the radical Green movement”, he immediately reached out to Gina Rinehart.
Christensen sent her an email setting out his proposals to attack environmental groups (including UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation ) that he claims want to hold up mining projects in the region.
The email exchange has now leaked.
Christensen wrote: “One quick thought was to hold a major rally ‘In Defence of the North Queensland Way of Life’ in Mackay where we would encourage people in farming, fishing and mining to descend on the town for a mass show of support against the southern Green interests.
“If this was to be successful, we could then quickly move this movement into a formal blue collar/workers organisation that advocated for the North and against the greenies.”
There was a need to act quickly, Christensen said, but the plan could only succeed if Rinehart and others like her got behind it. Not surprisingly, the email, dated March 7 this year, specifically mentioned financial support.
This is part of the new reality in Australian politics. Increasingly, money talks - particularly mining money.
And no-one in this country has more of it than Gina Rinehart who, we learned during the week, nearly tripled her wealth in the last year to $29.17 billion and is now the richest woman in the world.
She and Queensland mining magnate Clive Palmer are the “go to” billionaires for coalition politicians and conservative causes.
Palmer is the coalition’s biggest donor. He bankrolls the Liberal National Party in Queensland, on occasion even making his private jets available for party purposes.
The two billionaires subscribe to similar conspiracy theories.
Palmer made headlines a few months ago with the bizarre claim that the Rockefeller Foundation, a private philanthropic organisation in the US, was being used by the CIA to channel funds into Australia to attack our mining industry.
In her reply to Christensen’s email, Rinehart said: “This reminds me of my father’s concerns years ago when the same Rockefeller Foundation funds were used in long-running campaigns to mess up the USA mining industry.
“These USA funds are now to be used against Australia and I feel a more sustained program will be needed to counter.”
Rinehart’s father, Lang Hancock, discovered the vast iron ore deposits in the Pilbara in Western Australia on which the family’s fortune is built.
Her email added to the conspiracy theory an allegation that prominent American investor and philanthropist, George Soros, “is also funding sustained far left campaigns in Aussie.”
Rinehart put Christensen in touch with a right-wing think tank to which she and her money are closely connected.
The irony, though, is that-despite their allegiance to the politics of the right, and the money they contribute to the coalition cause-Rinehart and Palmer are proving remarkably useful to the Labor Party.
Anyone who doubts that Palmer has become one of the Gillard Government’s few political assets should talk to strategists in the Queensland LNP about his plan to run for parliament against Treasurer Wayne Swan in the Brisbane seat of Lilley.
Swan’s only chance of holding the seat, they say, is to have Palmer as his opponent.
And they know that, if Palmer did enter parliament, he would be a constant embarrassment to the coalition.
His most recent gaffe was his comment after the Budget: “If Australia was a company, I would have to write it off”.
In Rinehart’s case, some of the Twitter responses to the BRW Rich List revelation of the dramatic increase in her wealth were telling.
“Australia’s minimum wage is $589.30 per week. Last year Gina Rinehart made $598 per second,” read one tweet. ” So yes, there is a class war and we’re losing.”
But it is in their role as the poster girl and boy for the campaign against the mining tax that Rinehart and Palmer are helping Gillard and Swan most.
“I just feel like Gina Rinehart is a walking, talking justification for the mining tax,” said one of those Rich List tweets. Ditto for Palmer, I’d suggest.
To the despair of its supporters, the Gillard Government has seemed incapable of winning a political argument.The mining tax debate is to be an exception.
According to a recent Essential poll, only 28 per cent of voters agree with the opposition that, by criticising and increasing taxes on Australia’s richest people and companies, the government is engaging in class warfare.
But 46 per cent agree with the government’s claim that it is simply trying to ensure that all Australians benefit from the mining boom.
Those who could not decide between the two positions totalled 26 per cent.
The Government could not make the case nearly as convincingly without Rinehart and Palmer.
Earlier this month, claiming Palmer’s motivation for seeking political power was to avoid paying the mining tax, Swan said: “I believe everyone in our community deserves to share in the benefit of the mining boom, not just the fortunate few like Mr Palmer.”
And on Thursday, after the Rich List appeared, the Treasurer told parliament: “The Liberals over there are happy to give the planet’s richest woman a tax cut, but we on this side of the House are absolutely intent on providing a schoolkids bonus and increases in family payments to people on low and middle incomes.”
Rinehart and Palmer are in no position to complain about being demonised like this when they are so heavily engaged in partisan politics by their own choice.
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