A bitter family legal dispute between mining-magnate-turned-media-mogul Gina Rinehart and three of her four children has become public after a supression order was lifted yesterday, despite Rinehart’s claims that media attention could result in kidnappings and extortion attempts.

Three of Rinehart’s four children — Hope Welker, John Hancock and Bianca Rinehart — are suing their mother, claiming she should be removed as trustee of the family estate which was set up by their grandfather Lang Hancock.

Rinehart has long fought for suppression orders to reduce reporting on the legal battle. In a fascinating claim, Rinehart’s lawyers argued — unsuccessfully — that media coverage of the legal struggles would put her family at “risk of kidnapping, death threats and extortion, comparing her plight to the English footballer David Beckham, the US talk show host David Letterman and the late heart surgeon Victor Chang,” reports Louise Hall at The Sydney Morning Herald.

As Leo Shanahan writes in The Australian:

“It was revealed Mrs Rinehart had commissioned an extraordinary security risk assessment report, compiled by consultancy Control Risks, which argues that her family would be at risk from “criminals and deranged persons” if details of the case were made public.

The report says the Rinehart family has previously held a relatively low media profile, but details of the family dispute and reporting of the family’s vast wealth raised potential dangers.

… The report claims the Rinehart family could be at risk from “citizen journalists” who could use “crowd sourcing” techniques to subject the Rineharts to scrutiny. Crowd sourcing is where individuals use mobile phones to track the movements of high-profile individuals and upload video to social media sites.”

Despite Rinehart’s attempts at keeping a surpression order on proceedings, NSW Supreme Court judge Michael Bell deemed that the case would not raise security issues for the family.

With the supression order lifted, a number of fascinating emails from Rinehart’s children came to light, pleading their mother for money and noting their safety and social concerns due to the family’s high wealth.

Daughter Welker told her mother she was “down to her last $60,000” and needed money for “a cook so you can be sure April is fed right, bodyguard so the kids are safe and housekeeper that is good with the kids so I can go out”.

“I don’t think you understand what it means now that the whole world thinks you’re going to be wealthier than Bill Gates — it means we all need bodyguards and very safe homes!! I should have enough money to have a bodyguard, housekeeper and cook. Even my friends who have nothing compared to your wealth have more staff.”

Other daughter Bianca — who lives in Vancouver — wrote in an email expressing fears that she would be subject to a similar bomb hoax to Sydney schoolgirl Maddie Pulver, whose parents were very wealthy:

“We are, by all accounts the highest risk family in all of Australia for future similar attacks … I would like to have security personnel present . . Unfortunately I do not have the financial means to achieve this and ask that you consider sponsoring such an arrangement or please makes funds available.”

The family feud isn’t just about wanting cash for cooks and security guards. Son John Hancock put a proposal in to Hancock Prospecting last year which the board dismissed, says Peter Kerr in The Australian Financial Review:

“… the rupturing of the relationship with her eldest child, John Hancock, shortly before the legal struggle behan last year was trigger by an incident common in many family businesses: a child who doesn’t feel they are being taken seriously”.

Rinehart has been in the press all week after news that she purchased a 15% share in Fairfax Media earlier this week, which many have seen as a move by Rinehart to increase her political and media influence.

But rather than being feared as a conservative takeover, commentators should welcome Rinehart’s Fairfax investment, says Ian Hanke in The Age:

“Instead of reading this foray as some dreadful attack, it should be embraced as a sign that one of Australia’s most successful business operatives has endorsed not only an ailing business empire but also the media sector more broadly, which has also been languishing. To me, the investment, alongside her 10 per cent stake in Ten, signals there is still value in traditional media, even as the world moves to new platforms.

If Rinehart does take up a board position at Fairfax, it is to be hoped she brings the dynamism to the task that has made her what she is.”

The Australian Financial Review — another Fairfax publication — echoed Hanke’s views in its editorial:

“The resources boom has brought many changes to Australian life, so the fact that some of the wealth being generated is now filtering into the heart of the old eastern establishment — the publisher of this newspaper — should be regarded as normal and not a matter for alarm.”

The latest rumour floating around about Rinehart’s Fairfax interests is that she is seeking to combine Fairfax Media’s radio stations — including Sydney’s 2UE, Melbourne’s 3AW and Perth’s 6PR — with her close friend John Singleton’s Macquarie Radio Network, which runs Sydney’s 2GB.

As Singo told Fairfax for it’s recent Good Weekend profile on Rinehart “We 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.”

The radio move would work for Ginehart politically, say Andrew Burrell and Stephen Brook at The Australian:

“Mr Singleton owns the Sydney radio station 2GB that employs popular broadcasters Alan Jones and Ray Hadley.

Mrs Rinehart, a frequent visitor to Sydney, is believed to often listen to the pair and to be a fan of their conservative political views.”

In other bizarre mining-magnate-turned-media-mogul news, Clive Palmer told Lateline last night that he’s considering investing in Fairfax as well.

“Fairfax looks very exciting,” Palmer told Lateline host Tony Jones.

“You could have an east-west play with Fairfax. Gina could come from the west and buy 15%, and we could buy 30% from the eastern side of Australia and really get the place humming again.

“That sounds very attractive, I’ll have to consider that overnight and see what my stockbroker tells me in the morning and my financial advisers.

“We’ve certainly got the money and we’d certainly like to see media in Australia become much higher [quality].

“And she’s a very, very smart woman, so if she’s going after Fairfax, there must be something in it.”

Challenged later on whether his comments were tongue in cheek, Palmer replied, “I don’t know. You’ll have to wait and see.”

Peter Fray

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