The iron ore lady: Why the world’s richest woman is mired in controversy – by Tim Hume (The Independent – June 16, 2012)

Mining magnate Gina Rinehart was last month declared the richest woman in the world. But it’s the family feuds, attempts to control the Australian media and bitter public disputes that are keeping her in the headlines, reports Tim Hume.

Two years ago this month, the world’s richest woman, Gina Rinehart, climbed on a flatbed truck before a hometown crowd in Perth, Australia, and launched herself into public life. The threat of a proposed mining ‘super tax’, designed to more equitably disperse revenues from Australia’s resources boom, had drawn out the usually reclusive iron and coal magnate to address a rally against the government. Dressed in pearls and heels astride a vehicle once owned by her father, the pioneering prospector Lang Hancock, Rinehart bellowed “Axe the tax!” through a megaphone until she was hoarse.

No one who knew Rinehart would ever doubt her passion for her industry, but such a public performance was uncharacteristic. While she had yet to trouble the global rich lists, Rinehart was none the less, by 2010, Australia’s wealthiest woman. But despite this, she had managed, until then, to maintain a low public profile.

“When I started the book over a year ago, people would ask, ‘Who is Gina Rinehart?’,” says Adele Ferguson, an Australian journalist and author of a forthcoming unauthorised biography on Rinehart. But since grabbing the loudhailer, Rinehart has not let go, rising in power and profile to become one of Australia’s most talked about and polarising figures: an “Iron Lady” who is a source of intrigue and consternation to the media she increasingly owns, and the political classes she seeks to influence.

Rinehart has no shortage of admirers for the way she has single-mindedly transformed her father’s ailing prospecting business into an industrial giant, and helped recast the Outback as a centre of wealth creation.

The bonanza in iron ore, coal and other natural resources in recent years, fuelled largely by the voracious appetites of China and India’s growing economies, has buffered Australia better than virtually any other developed economy from the financial crisis.

“She brings a frontier spirit that is reflective of the beginnings of Australia,” says writer Tim Humphries, a member of Rinehart’s lobby group to develop the country’s north, who commends her as a “citizen intent on nation-building”.

But her sky-rocketing wealth, significant media acquisitions and fierce right-wing politics have led many to question whether Australia is equipped to handle Rinehart. No less a figure than the Deputy Prime Minister, Wayne Swan, has labelled her a threat to Australia’s success, democracy, press freedom and – most gravely – its egalitarianism.

Tasmanian Senator Bob Brown, the recently resigned Australian Greens leader, condemns her as a “selfish, anti-public multi-billionaire”, who mounted her father’s truck “not to defend the Australian ethos of a fair go, [but] to defend her dividends”.

Combined with her toxic legal battle with three of her children over the family fortune, the furore surrounding the 58-year-old widow has seen Rinehart become a household name in Australia.

In February, when she penned an ode to mining that simultaneously celebrated the industry behind Australia’s recent prosperity, and championed her pet causes, her straining couplets were reported internationally.

“Develop North Australia, embrace multiculturalism and welcome short-term foreign workers to our shores/ To benefit from the export of our minerals and ores,” read the poem, inscribed on a 30-tonne boulder donated by her company, Hancock Prospecting, as a monolithic monument to her industry.

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