Gina Rinehart‘s power can only increase with the election of the Abbott government, although the richest Australian’s fortunes are in the balance heading into 2014. She’s comfortably inside the top 10 in Crikey’s Power 50 list for 2013, released this week — but will other business figures give chase in next year’s rankings?
A captivating figure, Rinehart is set to lose control of a quarter of her wealth after her stunning capitulation in the lawsuit brought by her eldest child, John Hancock, and his sister Bianca Rinehart, declaring she will step down as trustee of the Hope Margaret Hancock Family Trust, which owns a 23.5% stake in Hancock Prospecting, worth roughly $5 billion. The family is now feuding over who will take over as trustee, and the outcome is totally unpredictable.
On the upside for Rinehart — ranked the seventh-most powerful Australian by Crikey‘s experts in this year’s Power 50 — iron ore prices are holding up. That strengthens her case for loans required to get the $9 billion Roy Hill project up and running and realise her long-held dream for Hancock Prospecting to finally develop and operate its own mine. If she can raise the money — no sure thing, with iron ore production out of the Pilbara already surging — analysts reckon her family’s wealth might jump from $22 billion to $30 billion, putting her among the richest 20 people in the world.
Rinehart’s investments in Fairfax Media and Ten Network have bombed, costing her millions, and have not yet delivered the influence she hoped for. On the other hand, having showered hospitality on Coalition figures like Barnaby Joyce, Warren Truss and Scott Morrison, Rinehart can call in a few favours in Canberra, advancing her agenda for development of northern Australia and celebrating the death of the mining and carbon taxes.
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Next on the Power 50 list, the James Packer juggernaut rolls on, especially in Sydney, where the stunning success of his “unsolicited proposal” (read: planning disaster) to build a billion-dollar casino/hotel/block of flats at Barangaroo, on the western edge of the CBD, has underlined his political clout. Packer, worth some $6 billion according to BRW and 10th on Crikey‘s Power 50 list this year, said he wanted to give something back to his hometown with his new Crown Sydney development, but the value seems to be travelling almost entirely the other way.
On the corporate side, Crown has out-manouevred and out-muscled Echo Entertainment and looks to be on the up and up, in Australia and overseas. The increasingly small matter of his 9% stake in channel Ten, invested alongside Lachlan Murdoch and Rinehart, is an irritant only and with every other television show seeming to celebrate the exploits of either himself or his late father, Kerry, the future is bright.
Another mining billionaire, Andrew “Twiggy” Forrest, with an estimated wealth of $4 billion, rounds out our list of the top three most powerful businesspeople, coming 15th in the Power 50 (Clive Palmer, of course, has miraculously morphed into a politician and nabbed the number-two spot). Forrest’s surprise emergence as one of our biggest philanthropists (he has just given $65 million to the University of Western Australia, the biggest single donation ever made in Australia) and the revelation, from Andrew Burrell’s new unauthorised biography, Twiggy, that he chatted about possible Liberal preselection with Tony Abbott, suggest Forrest’s vision is shifting: Fortescue Metals is built — and survived a near-death experience in late-2012 — and the third force in Pilbara iron ore is a reality. The class warfare is over; Twiggy won. Now he wants to cement his legacy. Watch for more big-ticket items.
Next on the list, Telstra’s David Thodey at 18th spot faces an interesting wrangle with the federal government over the restructure of its $11 billion contract to deliver the NBN, now headed by his old boss Ziggy Switkowski, ranked 22nd (oddly, slightly ahead of Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull). In the highly politicised communications arena, and arguably too closely aligned with Labor’s NBN model, after four years at the helm one gets the sense that Thodey might not be long for this list. Wildcard entry: Ziggy gets his old job back.
It will be open slather on policy for Jennifer Westacott, chief executive of the Business Council of Australia, ranked at 33 and rising, with her on-staying President Tony Shepherd conducting a whole-of-government audit and the Coalition keen to drive its anti-red and -green tape agenda. Likewise Maurice Newman, the former ASX and ABC chairman and arch climate sceptic who is comes in at 38 on Crikey’s Power 50, courtesy of his post chairing Tony Abbott’s Business Advisory Council. It will be interesting to see who joins him there.