Mining magnate turns to media
The world’s richest woman, mining magnate Gina Rinehart, is at the centre of the biggest shake-up in the history of the Australian media as it battles for survival, writes ANGELA LONG
THE EXPLOSIONS on the Australian media scene would do justice to the most skilled mining detonation engineer.
Since late June, massive restructuring has been announced, with job losses in the thousands, editors shown the door, broadsheets going tabloid and an overall painful transformation for the giants of the newspaper scene.
These blasts of change have an eerie echo in the red dirt of Western Australia, where a massive new mine is taking shape at a place called Roy Hill. And as the dust clears, standing in the centre of both situations is a figure in white, with a deceptively soft voice and an ambition as hard as the iron on which her fortune is based.
It is claimed that Gina Hancock Rinehart (58) is the world’s richest woman with about A$18 billion (€ 15.3 billion) net worth. She is the chief executive of Hancock Prospecting Proprietary Limited (HPPL), a mining conglomerate based in the ore-rich territories of the Pilbara region.
Fuelled by opposition to the federal Labor government’s taxes on mining and incoming carbon credit scheme, she wants to be the most powerful woman in media as well in her homeland.
Rinehart owns 10 per cent of the popular Ten television network and has been campaigning for control of some of the country’s best newspapers.
Ostensibly, her reason has been the plummeting share price of Fairfax Media, the quality publisher of the Sydney Morning Herald and the Age (Melbourne’s broadsheet daily).
Rinehart is the protagonist in a saga which encompasses media, mining, politics, business ethics and corporate systems – and has a rattling truth-beats-fiction back story around the central character.
The latest development appeared to show Rinehart backing down as she sold A$50 million (€42.4 million) of shares in Fairfax.
She had ramped up her stake in the ailing media company to more than 18 per cent (under Australian corporate rules, a full takeover bid is compulsory once a stakeholder has 19.9 per cent of a company).
Rinehart, however, retreated to 15 per cent after being warned that board member insurance would not apply if she owned more than that.
She does not yet sit on the Fairfax board, but she is lobbying hard for three seats. With that would come power to appoint – and fire – editors. Fairfax this week appointed Jack Cowin, a restaurant chain owner who has described himself as a friend of Rinehart, as an independent director.
As she scaled down the shareholding, there might have been a few sighs of relief in the corridors of Fairfax’s swish headquarters, toothsomely situated at water’s edge in Darling Harbour, just across from the iconic Harbour Bridge.
Fairfax has seen enough turmoil recently, with 1,900 job losses and the closure of two modern printing presses announced as the company heads for a “digital first” (and possibly, only) strategy. But, as the savvy pointed out, she hasn’t gone away. That would not be the Rinehart style.