Five good reasons to confiscate Gina Rinehart’s wealth
Once again Gina Rinehart has topped the Forbes billionaires list, with a net worth of $17 billion. It’s been a busy year for her, not only gobbling up media assets but also telling the rest of us how to live our lives and run society writes Katie Wood in Socialist Alternative.
In late 2012, Rinehart published a book, Northern Australia and then some: Changes we need to make our country rich. In response to her repeated exhortations for us to emulate her, I’ve decided to do just that. I work full-time, so I don’t have time to write a book; readers will have to make do with an article. Here it is: Changes we need to make our country rich: 5 reasons to confiscate Gina Rinehart’s Wealth.
#1. Obscene inequality
In 2012, Gina Rinehart made almost $600 a second. That is more than the 100,000-odd sole parent families who have been just been kicked off the Parent Payment get every fortnight. The ACOSS poverty line for a single adult is $348 a week and for a couple with two children is $752. There are 2.265 million people in Australian living below that poverty line, including more than half a million children.
The main source of income for nearly 30 percent of those living in poverty is wages, but Rinehart has argued to lower the minimum weekly wage to almost the same amount that she makes in a second!
Part of the batshit crazy myth that she and her cronies have dreamt up to justify this obscene situation is that mining CEOs like her earned their wealth by developing Australia. She reckons that without people like her, the poor would be worse off. So how come, during the years she was making her billions, the proportion of people living in poverty has risen?
The reason is that she and the CEO mates she likes to jet around Australia with make their money off the backs of the rest of us, both by the raw materials they rip out of the land they stole from Indigenous people or by driving down wages and conditions (e.g. lowering the minimum wage).
#2. Stolen wealth
Lang Hancock, Gina Rinehart’s father, was born to one of Western Australia’s oldest landowning families, at Mulga Downs. In 1952 he accidentally stumbled across the world’s largest iron ore deposit. It was that bit of luck – followed by a decade of lobbying the state government to repeal a ban on pegging iron ore claims – that produced Rinehart’s inheritance.
Hancock was a viciously right-wing ideologue. He bought newspapers to push his agenda and was a close friend of Joh Bjelke-Petersen, the racist authoritarian Queensland premier. Hancock’s own views on Indigenous people were no better than Joh’s. Rinehart likes to present herself as more enlightened, claiming that mining will help Western Australia’s Indigenous people out of poverty, but the reason they are in poverty in the first place is because of the actions and opinions of people like her father. In a public TV interview, Hancock claimed that he would deal with “troubled Aborigines” by “[doping] the water up so that they were sterile and would breed themselves out …”.
Not content with raking in more money than anyone else in Australia, Rinehart is now using her political clout to undermine the relatively good wages in the industry. The new Roy Hill mine will be built by 1,700 workers on the 457 visa program. The 457 visas are precarious, which makes them an obvious tool for undermining wages and conditions. Rinehart calls this humanitarian. Despite the higher wages, it is still the case that it is the labour of the workers in the mines that produces the wealth. Without them, none of the mining companies would be making their billions in profits.
Rinehart is upset about wages in Australia. She has lauded workers in the US for going to work for $9 an hour, and Africans for being “willing” to work for $2 a day. There is a difference between being willing and having no other option. The examples she praises show what happens when greedy bosses like her get their own way. And in the African mining industry which she thinks is so wonderful, 34 miners were killed last year at the Marikana mine, owned by the UK company Lonmin.
But Rinehart wants us to believe that it is the entrepreneurial spirit of mining CEOs (who are not miners) that has made Australia rich: she had her father’s 70th birthday cake iced with the “Patron Saint of our Development”. She hates the federal government, but it is subsidising the mining industry, which makes around $50 billion in profits, to the tune of more than $4 billion. The mining industry pays some money to state governments in the form of royalties, but it hardly amounts to a pittance in the multi-billion dollar industry. The same can be said for royalties for traditional owners. The offer from the Fortescue Metal Group to the Yindjibarndi people equates to less than 4 cents for every $1,000 made on the project.
The mining industry is an environmentally destructive industry that has exploited the traditional owners of the land. It has made a very few people obscenely rich from raw materials that should belong to everyone.
#3. Political influence
Wealth can be stolen in such vast amounts because of the political clout that the likes of Gina Rinehart wield. We all know the story of the prime minister who was toppled after proposing a mining super profits tax, but that political power has been cultivated for a very long time.
In a Monthly article, Nick Bryant recounts the “Hancock Benefit Tours” that Rinehart and Hancock ran in the 1970s, taking aspiring politicians on joy flights over the Pilbara. Upcoming Liberals who enjoyed a taste of the mining magnate lifestyle and ideology included Michael Kroger, Eric Abetz and Peter Costello.
In 1979, Rinehart commandeered a jumbo and 300 businessmen and journalists for the so-called “Wake Up Australia” tour, a two-day flight and launch of Hancock’s manifesto of the same name. She hasn’t given up since then.
Along with her friend and former Pauline Hanson adviser John McRobert, she recently set up the lobby group Australians for Northern Development and Economic Vision (ANDEV) (also known as CEO Billionaires for Slave Labour and Environmental Destruction). One of its key goals has recently shown up as a leaked Liberal Party discussion paper – the establishment of a special economic zone in the north of Australia to “encourage investment and development”. Rinehart wants the north to be her own utopia, with less environmental and labour regulation and lower taxes. The Liberals’ discussion papers are developed in preparation for a likely federal Liberal government, and the fact that another one of Rinehart’s crackpot schemes is on the table is scary indeed.
#4. She’s a jumped-up ideologue with the resources to push her agenda
Rinehart is clearly attempting to emulate the Koch brothers, the US billionaires who have poured millions into a host of reactionary causes. She’s financed tours of climate change sceptics Ian Plimer (who is also a member of ANDEV) and Christopher Monckton, who has called for an Australian equivalent of Fox News. Rinehart took his advice to heart and has bought substantial stakes in Fairfax and Channel 10. At Channel 10, she is believed to have pushed for the subsequent atrocity of giving Andrew Bolt his own TV show. Who knows where the ambition might end?
#5. Cultural destruction
It may be amusing that poetry far worse than the self-absorbed crap you wrote in high school is now enshrined on a boulder outside a WA shopping centre for the sole reason that the author has $17 billion. But it also tells you a little something about our society’s values.
We can’t all be poets, but what is truly appalling is the recent news that the production company that made Crownies has bought the rights to Rinehart’s biography and now plans a six-part TV series. It’s the final call to arms.
So if you value what little is left of democracy, your working conditions, your environment, your natural resources and a TV that doesn’t show just round-the-clock ramblings of Andrew Bolt and god-awful biographies of wealthy megalomaniacs, you will join in calling for Gina Rinehart’s wealth to be confiscated before it is too late. We could use the money to start to “make our country rich” – by which I mean bringing people out of poverty and fixing our health, education and transport systems. But I don’t think that’s what Rinehart had in mind.