If a person is known by the company they keep, new documents provide a rare glimpse at the real Gina Rinehart.
The unfathomably rich boss of Hancock Prospecting has been the focus of intense speculation since she branched from mining into mainstream media, buying large stakes in Fairfax Media and Ten Network. What makes these purchases so interesting is that she refuses to discuss them ― at all.
Now, though, documents tucked away on the website of Rinehart's little-known mining lobby, Australians for Northern Development and Economic Vision, uncloak the secretive billionaire's inner-circle. And with links to hardline climate sceptics, WA secessionists and fiery anti-immigrationists, Rinehart might bring a more radical agenda to Fairfax and Ten than anyone has guessed.
ANDEV, established quietly by Rinehart earlier this year, publicly calls for the creation of a new miner-friendly economic zone in the north of Australia, where resources companies would be exempt from a number of taxes and be allowed to bypass immigration laws to import cheap foreign labour.
But behind the scenes its close-knit membership, including powerful rich-listers such as Hans Mende and Hugh Morgan, reads like a who's who of ultra-conservative business.
Ian Plimer is perhaps ANDEV's most controversial operative. As well as being director of CBH Resources and Ivanhoe Australia, he is also a global poster boy for climate change scepticism. His fierce rejection of manmade global warming, Heaven and Earth, is an independent best-seller.
Plimer, who is lauded by conservatives including Opposition Leader Tony Abbott and Britain's Thatcher-era chancellor of the exchequer, Nigel Lawson, has toured the world preaching that climate change is caused by volcanoes and solar flares – most notably at last year's Copenhagen summit, where he crashed the main event as the star guest of sceptics group, Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow.
Hugh Morgan is another ANDEV member who rejects mainstream climate beliefs. The former Reserve Bank board member – who headed the Business Council of Australia, and Western Mining before it was snapped up by BHP Billiton in 2005 – also maintains links to the controversial HR Nicholls Society, which advocates extreme industrial relations deregulation. Morgan remains a major donor to the Liberal Party and is one of its most vocal members.
Followers of Pauline Hanson will also remember John McRobert, who served as her advisor during her time as leader of the nationalist One Nation party. McRobert, the man behind One Nation's much-derided 2 per cent Easytax, has been campaigning against company, income and profit-based taxes for decades. Not only is he closely involved with ANDEV, he's also said to be one of Rinehart's closest confidants.
Rinehart is also joined by Ron Manners, a veteran miner and a friend of her father, the late mining magnate Lang Hancock. In an interview with Business Spectator, Manners links ANDEV to a rising secessionist tide in Western Australia, part of what he calls a “peaceful revolt” in the mining states. He believes WA, the Northern Territory and Queensland should simply stop sending royalties to Canberra.
Manners likens Rinehart to Hancock, who was also fond of using his mining wealth to buy influence. In the 1970s he founded two newspapers, the now-defunct National Miner and The Independent, and bankrolled the libertarian Workers Party, which unsuccessfully contested a string of state and federal elections before folding at the end of the decade.
Like her father, Manners says, Rinehart “wants her voice to be heard”. (That voice could be remarkably similar to Hancock's, given that ANDEV also includes his former speechwriter, Craig Marshall.)
If Rinehart were planning to make her own tilt at politics, ANDEV would be the ideal vehicle. Indeed, fund-raising would be a breeze with the support high-flying WA business personality Tony Sage, whose wealth is estimated at more than $800 million, and the secretive German-born, New York-based billionaire Hans “Mr Coal” Mende, whose global portfolio is said to include close to $1 billion in Australian mining assets.
A sympathetic national broadcaster and newspaper group would come in handy, too