The quickest and most effective means of attracting money to the north of Australia is to declare (for a trial period of 20 years) a tax holiday for all workers and salary earners.’‘
That’s not Gina Rinehart but her late father, Lang Hancock, in 1958, who was an equally passionate advocate of developing Australia’s vast resource-rich north.
Rinehart’s increasingly frequent forays into public policy should surprise no-one. Australia’s richest woman inherited not only her father’s lucrative mining interests, but his unfashionable ideas too.
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Welcome to the latest edition of I Call Bullshit, where we look at hype, hyperbole and hogwash. Today we’re looking at our most unmunificent mining magnate.
Gina Rinehart’s outburst yesterday was charmingly described by Treasurer Wayne Swan as “pearl rattling”. In her incongruous voice (somewhat reminiscent of Little Britain’s Emily Howard) she lambasted the government for a sluggish economy, and Australians for their wanton socialising.
The heiress was rightly ridiculed for her reference to African wages:
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In June 33 years ago Gina Rinehart launched her Wake Up Australia campaign and had to charter a Boeing 747 to reach the people she wanted to hear her demands for all power to the miners. No need for a jumbo jet these days when a no-frills video and the internet can bounce her words around Australia, and the world.
The medium has changed, but the message hasn’t.
“The minerals are in the ground. All we have to do is give free rein to individuals and companies with the incentive and ability and courage to dig them out and sell them,” Ms Rinehart said in 1979.
In her video released today she says: “And with state and federal debts, we must get realistic not just promote class warfare. Indeed, if we competed at the Olympic Games as sluggishly as we compete economically there would be an outcry.”
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We all know what a ‘White Knight’ is, right? A stereotype, a stock fairytale character. A dashing creature – male, of course – on the back of a horse, fighting for truth and justice.
Knights belong on round tables, or nobly cantering around medieval villages, or rescuing damsels. They are romantic figures; heroic, virile, storybook characters.
Mining magnate and wannabe media mogul Gina Rinehart sees herself as a white knight. In response to questions from Four Corners about her plans for Fairfax, her company Hancock Prospecting Pty Ltd said:
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The proposed mass sackings at the Fairfax media group and the apparently sinister arrival of mining billionaire Gina Rinehart on the company’s board have triggered some strange and disturbing contributions from Canberra this week. The strangest came from Shadow Attorney-General George Brandis who made the straight-faced claim that the carbon tax was to blame for the 1900 Fairfax redundancies.
It seems that there’s a link between rising world temperatures, the introduction of a tax on polluters, and the shift from a robust print readership to a less lucrative digital model. The science behind it is fascinating, and hopefully George will pop up on Quantum soon to draw a diagram explaining it all on the back of a beer coaster.
At least Brandis was only making a fool of himself. Others in the Parliament used the arrival of the dastardly Rinehart to float some remarkably stupid policy ideas which would make fools of us all, and leave Australia a free speech laughing stock. Unsurprisingly these calls have been put with the most force by those with an axe to grind against the media, on account of the media’s pesky habit of rightly highlighting their own past foolishness.
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When Australia needed to build a great big hydro electric scheme in the 1950s to generate clean power and to ensure a year-round, reliable flow of water into the Murray and Murrumbidgee, we imported foreign labour.
Nearly two thirds of the Snowy Scheme’s total 100,000 strong workforce came from overseas, from as many as 30 different countries. Many stayed, lending a distinctly European flavour which still remains in today’s skifields and Alpine towns, and many returned back home.
The Snowy Scheme was far from the first major Australian nation-building project to import foreign labour. The influx of fortune seekers in our first gold rush, in the 1850s, nearly tripled the national population. How ironic, then, that we are now arguing so feverishly about the importation of a few thousand foreign workers to the nation’s booming mining sector, a sector which is easily the largest driver of non-service sector productivity in our modern economy.
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You know you’re in strife as a political leader when you must rely on the almost uniformly vacuous medium of Twitter to demonstrate that your leadership is safe. Yet so it was with Julia Gillard, who said she was satisfied with government whip Joel Fitzgibbon’s declaration (in 140 characters or less) that she had his support.
“I thank my colleagues for the publicity but no one does more to support the PM and the government than me!” Fitzgibbon wrote from his Twitter handle @fitzhunter to quell suggestions he was canvassing alternate leaders. It was schoolyard stuff – “hey JG we are still cool and UR awesome J Fitz xoxo” – made more so by the addition of a chirpy exclamation mark.
Setting the specifics of Julia Gillard’s leadership aside, the broader problem for the Government is that this latest flare-up goes to the one thing which threatens to kill it dead. And that is the perception that it is too busy focussing on its own survival to concentrate fully on issues which affect the day to day lives of Australians.
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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.
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So Julie Bishop has a Huawei-donated iPad. Dangerous. Dangerous for her and dangerous for Australia if she ever aspires to become Foreign Minister. The iPad alone is but one of the micro details to emerge from Ms Bishop’s visit to China as a guest of the Chinese telco.
Some Liberals led by Julie Bishop together with vested mining interests questioned the Gillard Government’ accepting ASIO’s advice against letting Huawei bid for the National Broadband Network. But the bar on Huawei has wider significance because the controversy it has sparked illuminates the most vexing issue of Australian foreign policy - our relationship with China.
This foreign policy challenge was again in sharp relief at the recent Boao Forum, on the luxury resort on Hainan Island, China’s version of Hawaii (they also have their most advanced naval base there).
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It was at the bottom of the ocean that James Cameron felt alone, distant from humanity. But it was there that he was, perhaps, closer to us than he had ever been.
Earlier this week, the acclaimed director became the first person to solo-dive to the bottom of the Mariana Trench - one of the darkest, quietest places on the planet.
As the world applauded Cameron, billionaire Clive Palmer was holding court at a press conference in Brisbane, speaking about spooks and conspiracy theories and strange political follies. There were no submarines, blueprints or audacious concept drawings behind him. Just a man who had made enough money to say whatever he liked whenever the mood struck.
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Bold and The Beautiful eat your heart out. Gina Rinehart’s family saga has all the ingredients of a gripping soapie: money, power, drama, threats and fierce sibling rivalry.
It’s a fantastic combination if you like that kind of thing. Every day there’s another new twist and feisty morsel of accusation and blame.
What a pity it’s nobody else’s business.
In the same way that fish don’t really understand what water is, most Australians (except perhaps those who have come from dictatorships overseas) take democracy for granted.
We don’t often ask what democracy means, beyond the obligatory exercise of turning up to vote every three years. Part of Australia’s strong democracy is the civil rights that we all possess; to say what we want, to associate with who we like and own our own property.
But in another sense democracy is an ongoing conversation between all parts of society, the rulers and the ruled, the rich and the poor, in an attempt to discern what our national priorities should be. In this conversation, not all voices are equal.
I can’t find one Coalition MP or fellow traveller who came to the defence of Cate Blanchett when last May she took part in a TV advertisement supporting a price on carbon.
There were plenty who shredded the internationally successful Australian actress, making the point that among those disqualified from speaking on climate change were internationally successful Australian actresses.
None of these shredders were accused by others of instigating class warfare against Blanchett, said to be worth from $53 million to $55 million. None were dismissed as being driven by envy.
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Wayne Swan has discovered his voice. After telling us in no uncertain terms what he really thought of Kevin Rudd the week before last. Now Swannie has set his sights on our mining magnates.
In an essay in The Monthly, and in a speech due at lunch time today to the National Press Club, the Treasurer makes the argument that democracy is under threat from vested interests - and takes aim in particular at Clive Palmer, Twiggy Forrest and Gina Rinehart.
But his argument is not just limited to those who make their millions by digging things out of the ground. Swan is worried about our middle-class society being under “mortal threat”, essentially since the “Reagan-Thatcher revolutions”.
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A NASA astronaut probably won’t be the next person to take a small step for man on a planet or moon a giant leap away from Earth. The US space agency is a shadow of its former self, facing death of a thousand budget cuts. Its space shuttles are retired, their replacements canned.
It’s far more likely that the next footprint on the moon will be sponsored by a cashed-up entrepreneur. Think Richard Branson, the airline tycoon who founded Virgin Galactic. Or think American hotel chain billionaire Robert Bigelow, who wants to build a space station.
Or maybe think Gina Rinehart. Stuff NASA, we could have GINA: a Ginormous Investment in National Aerospace, sponsored by our very own chief mining magnate. Our richest person could put an Australian on the moon. Maybe even build an Australian colony. It would be revolutionary: for her, and for the country. And she could do it.
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You can’t blame Hope Rinehart for trying to get her Mum to pay for a cook, a housekeeper and a bodyguard. Optimism isn’t even her middle name - it’s right up there.
And who among us wouldn’t have a fairly ambitious birthday wish list if Mum was the richest person in Australia?
So Hope asked Mum for a cook (AND showed her willingness to negotiate by including a salary ranging from $40,000 to $225,000+ which means she’d presumably gun for Jamie Oliver but be happy with a Subway “sandwich artist”).
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