You don’t become one of Australia’s richest men without a making a few friends in some 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 likeable, 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): Rudd 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.
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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 that was reciprocated when a newly constructed highway championed by MacTiernan 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 by Forrest to pressure Chinese bureaucratic into backing an FMG project.