World's 'richest woman' bursts publicity cocoon

By Greg Ansley

Gina Rinehart. Photo / Getty Images
Gina Rinehart. Photo / Getty Images

Mining magnate Gina Rinehart continues to flex her increasingly mighty muscles as she fights for a seat on the Fairfax board, moves into coal in Queensland and ignites new political flames with her plan to import foreign workers to remote Western Australia.

Rinehart, who turned the A$75 million she inherited from her iron ore pioneering father Lang Hancock two decades ago into wealth estimated at more than A$29 billion ($37 billion), has burst from the publicity cocoon she wove around herself for years.

Last week the BRW rich list named her Australia's richest person and the world's wealthiest woman, overtaking Christy Walton, the widow of American Wal-Mart founder John Walton.

With ballooning resources wealth that grew by about A$18.9 billion in the past year, Rinehart remains on track to threaten Mexican telecommunications titan Carlos Slim as the world's richest tycoon.

Also last week the A$6.4 billion Alpha coal project in Queensland's Galilee Basin, part-owned by Rinehart, was approved by the state government despite environmental objections. The project is expected to generate A$3 billion a year in exports.

Not all of the publicity surrounding Rinehart has been to her liking: her battle with three of her four children over control of their trust fund has exposed painful family business, and she is fighting laws requiring financial disclosure.

Bloomberg reported that Rinehart's company, Hancock Prospecting, had been ordered to submit its 2010 financial statements on August 9, 2011, more than a month after they were due under the Corporations Act.

Hancock argued that complying with the requirement would disclose sensitive commercial information and reduce its negotiating power, and the challenge is due to be heard this month.

Politically, Rinehart has become a thorn for Prime Minister Julia Gillard's struggling minority Labor Government, opposing key policies including the new carbon and mining taxes.

Rinehart is now gathering media power to herself.

She holds 10 per cent of the Ten Network and sits on its board, and has accumulated 12.6 per cent of Fairfax Media to become its biggest shareholder.

Rinehart is now engaged in a bitter battle for representation on the Fairfax board, seeking two seats against the opposition of other directors including chairman Roger Corbett.

Both sides have been canvassing institutional investors, with a key element in the dispute the board's insistence that Rinehart abide by the requirement that directors not interfere directly in editorial matters.

Rinehart holds seats on the board of other companies in which she has a smaller shareholding, and her Fairfax demands will be almost impossible to refuse if she further increases the size of her holding.

Commentators have noted that her business skills have been clearly demonstrated, buying into Fairfax as other investors sold holdings.

In her first public statement on the issue, Rinehart said Corbett needed to explain how he will address the interest of all shareholders "rather than merely hoping for improvements in circulation, revenue and share price".

Analysts have identified Simon Marais, of Allan Gray Funds Management as a key player in the battle. Allan Gray holds 8 per cent of Fairfax.

Marais has said that the size of a shareholding should not guarantee a seat on the board, that Rinehart must abide by the editorial non-interference rule, and that an extraordinary general meeting might be a solution to Rinehart's claim.

Elsewhere, Rinehart is again at the centre of a political storm over the enterprise migration agreement signed with the Government allowing her to hire about 1700 foreign workers to help build the new A$9.5 billion Roy Hill iron ore mine in the Pilbara.

The agreements were designed to allow miners to import skills not available in Australia.

Although almost 7000 Australians will also be employed on construction, and the 1500 permanent jobs will be filled by locals, the deal has outraged Labor MPs and unions.

- NZ Herald

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