Gina Rinehart, Clive Palmer, Andrew "Twiggy" Forrest
Gina Rinehart, Clive Palmer and Andrew "Twiggy" Forrest (Images: AAP)

If ever you needed confirmation that the global pandemic has been much tougher on the poor than the wealthy, go out and buy yourself a copy of today’s The Australian Financial Review 2021 Rich List.

Of the 200 individuals, families, or couples listed, only 32 have seen a reduction in their estimated wealth.

Endless money printing and record low interest rates have been a bonanza for the lucky few who controlled assets going into the pandemic and have seen them soar in value over the past year. And the higher you go up the list, the bigger the jumps in valuation, with only three of the top 30 suffering a decline in their wealth.

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Focusing on the very top, miner Gina Rinehart has taken out number one adding $2.15 billion to a record $31.06 billion, whilst Perth-based iron ore rival Andrew “Twiggy” Forrest has leaped $4.25 billion to $27.25 billion.

That’s a combined $48.31 billion for the big two iron ore barons and that’s before valuing Gina’s four adult children who collectively own 23.4% of Hancock Prospecting and each have their own entry of around $2.31 billion, bringing the family’s total to $40.4 billion.

Meanwhile, the poor old West Australian taxpayers who actually own the iron ore resources that have made a few families so rich, are still battling away servicing a gross state debt of $64.7 billion as at June 30, 2020, after borrowing a record $11 billion in 2019-20 — albeit mainly rolling over existing long-term debt.

As Crikey outlined in January, WA taxpayers are going to pocket more than $10 billion in iron ore royalties in 2020-21, up from just $1.1 billion in 2007-08. However, it still beggars belief that arguably the world’s richest minerals jurisdiction has negative net assets after one of the biggest booms in history.

The presence of five different Rineharts on the list highlights the biggest inconsistency in how it is put together.

You see, dozens of rich families, including long-time wealthy dynasties such as the Myer, Smorgons, and Liberman families in Melbourne, have not been mentioned once.

Yet the likes of the Rinehart, Packer, Pratt, Besen, Murdoch and Kennard families are allowed to scoop up multiple individual entries.

Some couples feature as a single entry — such as Gerry Harvey and Katie Page, and TPG Telecom’s David and Vicky Teoh — but then many other wives, brothers and children are not specifically mentioned with the focus remaining on the typically old male family patriarch.

For instance, the Reece plumbing empire is controlled equally by the three Wilson brothers but they are collectively valued at a record $7.9 billion and the single entry just focuses on the chairman describing the wealth as “Alan Wilson and family”.

If the Rinehart family were given five of the 200 entries in the top 200, surely the Wilsons deserve three, given each brother owns a discrete stake in Reece worth about $3 billion?

The same thing is done with the Ainsworth family, which is collectively valued at a record $5 billion even though 97-year-old patriarch Len Ainsworth gave away his controlling stake in pokies giant Aristocrat Leisure to his seven children more than 20 years ago.

Other notable entries include Lachlan Murdoch at 22, jumping from $3.76 billion to $4.43 billion thanks to the recovery in the Disney share price. His old man Rupert has never scored a mention in a Fairfax/Nine Rich List since renouncing his Australian citizenship back in 1985.

Australian citizenship, and wealth not tied up in a sprawling hard-to-measure family empire, are the two key criteria for inclusion, which is why the AFR’s list features a bunch of foreign-based entrepreneurs who most people have never heard of.

These include Hong Kong-based property mogul Hui Wing Mau, who was the only person in the top 10 to suffer a reduction in wealth, dropping from $18.06 billion to $11.7 billion. The same goes for outgoing Glencore CEO Ivan Glasenberg, who grew up in South Africa and lives in Switzerland but takes out 12th spot on the list with a pile worth $7.4 billion because he took out Australian citizenship way back in 1986 when briefly living in Australia.

The other problem with the AFR top 200 and The Australian’s competing top 250, is that the cut-off is ridiculously high at $590 million and $450 million respectively.

They completely miss thousands of wealthy Australians, some of whom have been captured on this alternative rich list of almost 2000 Australians worth more than $20 million. If I’ve missed anyone, drop me a line to [email protected].

Note: this article was amended on Sat May 29 following a communication with Hancock Prospecting, which noted, in part:

The Rinehart children own 23.4 per cent, not 25 percent, and Mr Lang Hancock’s estate was bankrupt, as confirmed by the court and publicly known, how does that make Gina Rinehart an “heiress.”

Isn’t it a bit anti-female as well as factually wrong, to pretend she was an heiress, when she worked hard to grow the family company, then in a seriously difficult financial state, most assets had left the family company, and the few remaining, suffering with legal disputes and or heavy mortgages, indeed, cheques were being written and hidden in drawers for lack of money, when Mrs Rinehart walked in as Chair.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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