One of the richest people in the world is getting just that little bit richer.
Even before last week, Gina Rinehart was worth about $17bn (£11.2bn), according to the Forbes rich list, making the mining magnate Australia’s wealthiest person by a comfortable stretch.
That figure is about to swell a little more, however, after resource giant Rio Tinto was ordered to pay royalties expected to total about A$200m (£123m) to Mrs Rinehart and another mining family, following a dispute about a decades-old iron ore agreement.
After all, if there is one thing the tycoon has shown she knows how to do, it is how to make money from iron ore, used to make steel gobbled up by growing economies.
The 59-year-old inherited her business interests from her father, Lang Hancock, a mining pioneer in outback Western Australia, but has insisted she was left with debts and no “inherited money” when he died in 1992.
What is indisputable is that under her leadership Hancock Prospecting, of which she is chairman, has reaped billions from the country’s China-fuelled mining boom, directly driving her own personal wealth.
It is possible that she will become the world’s richest women, a title currently thought to be held by Liliane Bettencourt, the L’Oreal heiress worth $30bn – though calculations vary, and some sources have in the past already handed Rinehart that title.
But hers is not proving a smooth ride, with her mining empire faced with warnings of a looming iron ore glut, amid tense relations with politicians, press and the public.
At home, Mrs Rinehart is a divisive figure – and, it seems, increasingly so, as she ventures beyond her usual territory to buy up media interests and influence public debate.
The mother-of-four refuses interviews, but is by no means a shrinking violet, known for her outspoken pronouncements in speeches and articles and, even, a polemical verse dubbed the ‘universe’s worst poem’. (One memorable section read: ‘… embrace multiculturalism and welcome short term foreign workers to our shores / To benefit from the export of our minerals and ores’.)
She has ruffled feathers by warning her fellow Australians they must compete with African workers earning $2 a day – not a message that went over well from a billionaire – and has called for the creation of a special economic zone across resource-rich northern Australia, where she wants fewer regulations and taxes.
Her positions have led her into open dispute with the Gillard Government, as she has actively campaigned against the introduction of mining and carbon taxes. On Friday last week, she accused politicians of viewing miners as “ATMs for everyone else to draw from without that money first having to be earned”.
No doubt the chief executives of many public mining companies would privately share her sentiments to some degree – but would not set themselves at loggerheads with politicians in this way.
Not so Mrs Rinehart, who has provoked the Treasurer, Wayne Swan, to insist he will not bow to her “almost-daily pearl-rattling” – a none-too-subtle reference to the billionaire’s fondness for large pearl necklaces.
Politics is not the only front on which she is fighting. Aside from her recent court victory against Rio Tinto, she remains locked in a range of torrid legal battles, including a long-running dispute with two of her children over control of the family fortunes.
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