As billionaire federal MP Clive Palmer continues to cop a daily beating from The Australian, the contrast with the way Rupert Murdoch’s flagship domestic newspaper treats fellow mining oligarch Gina Rinehart could not be starker.
In July, Rinehart paid for The Australian’s editor Clive Mathieson to tour her emerging Roy Hill iron ore mine in Western Australia. The junket produced a flattering Mathieson feature and this uncritical news story.
While Palmer gets flogged for his woeful attendance record in the House of Representatives (Gina Rinehart’s even worse record at Ten Network board meetings is still to be released), The Australian is given the drop on Rinehart’s impending departure to sugar-coat the news of her board meeting truancy.
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In terms of uncritical pap, it doesn’t get much worse than this effort by Sharri Markson and Darren Davidson in Monday’s Media Diary:
“Australia’s richest woman Gina Rinehart is likely to resign from the board of the Ten Network.
The talk at Ten is that Rinehart will retain her 10 per cent share in the company but appoint someone else to represent her on the board. Diary can reveal she has discussed the option with execs at Ten this week and first floated the possibility that she would exit the board months ago.
Rinehart has only made it to one board meeting this year. In the past year, John Klepec attended 10 in her place and Jack Cowin attended one on her behalf.
While her expertise has been welcome at Ten, directors understand her focus right now is on the Roy Hill mine, the biggest construction project in Australia.”
For starters, Markson got it wrong on the figures for the latest year. Rinehart failed to attend any of the 11 board meetings, but did make it to one meeting of the “Board performance and renewal committee” — where she presumably marked herself a failure.
And precisely what expertise is it that Rinehart has contributed to the Ten boardroom, where she has been a consistent no-show for her entire four-year term? The financial performance has been absolutely disastrous over this period, and Rinehart also refused to join Lachlan Murdoch, James Packer and Bruce Gordon in guaranteeing Ten’s emergency $200 million line of credit approved by shareholders at last year’s AGM.
The other fact, which The Australian has still so far refused to report, is that there is a candidate running for the Ten board on an explicit platform opposing Rinehart’s re-election. Here’s an extract of what was submitted to be distributed in the notice of meeting ahead of the December 4 AGM:
“Mr Mayne believes incumbent Ten director Gina Rinehart should be opposed for re-election at the AGM given her attendance record, dubious record on press freedom issues and Ten’s poor performance during her period on the board.”
This paragraph — which will now be re-worked given Rinehart’s apparent, but not yet officially confirmed, retirement — was submitted before her 100% no-show record in 2013-14 was disclosed. While Ten reported a bone-crunching $166.3 million loss for the year, incredibly, Australia’s richest person still thought it was appropriate to pocket the full $81,000 board fee (see page 17 of annual report).
You won’t read this in The Australian, but here is Rinehart’s embarrassing attendance and board-fee record in full, ever since she was first appointed to fill a casual vacancy on the Ten board the day after the 2010 AGM:
Year to August 31, 2011: Attended four out of eight board meetings (see page 9 of annual report) and also missed the single board performance committee meeting she was meant to attend. Pocketed $64,603 for this half-hearted effort.
Year to August 31, 2012: attended eight out of 14 board meeting and one committee meeting (see page 9 of annual report) but still pocketed the full $90,000 board fee.
Year to August 31, 2013: attended 11 of 14 board meetings and no committee meetings (see page 12 of annual report) but still pocketed full $81,000 board fee.
Year to August 31, 2014: attended zero out of 11 board meetings and one committee meeting (see page 11 of the annual report) and the board didn’t withhold any of her $81,000 fee.
For an Australia-based director of an ASX200 company, it doesn’t any worse than this. At any normal company, attending just 23 board meetings out of a possible 47 over four years would be a sackable offence, but Gina Rinehart has been indulged by the Murdoch and Packer interests.
Asking for their voting support for another three years would have been highly embarrassing, but the Murdoch interests have happily helped run the PR soft sell for someone whose record simply doesn’t deserve it.
*Stephen Mayne has nominated for the board of Ten Network Holdings at the AGM in Sydney on December 4. He is not expecting support from the Murdoch, Packer or Rinehart interests.