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 recent 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.