The Iron Lady | FT Alphaville

The Iron Lady

Meet Gina Rinehart.

She’s the richest person in Australia, and if the iron ore price holds, the daughter of Australian mining pioneer, Lang Hancock, could soon be the world’s richest woman — a position currently occupied by the Wal-Mart widow Christy Walton.

A recent deal to sell a stake in a huge Western Australia iron ore project to South Korea’s Posco project saw Rinehart’s personal fortune leap to around $20bn.

Now, Rinehart, dubbed the Iron Lady because of her extensive iron ore assets, is no shrinking violet when coming to make her views known when it comes to mining industry.

In 2010 she fronted an “Axe the Tax” protest against the Australian government’s mining tax, part of a campaign which ultimately cost Prime Minister Kevin Rudd his job.

Rinehart is also said to be fascinated with the idea of using nuclear explosives to create a harbour on the north-west coast, and is climate change sceptic.

Here’s a taster of her views from a speech she gave last year:

To our peril.  Today, dark clouds are gathering.  In Canberra (thousands of kilometres away), the minority Federal Government is announcing today the details of its new carbon tax, which will increase the costs of commodities we export and costs in Australia’s economy…

… independent polling in Australia is showing that I am not the only Australian concerned about carbon tax, as the majority of our people do not want it. Also as you may know the Coalition, led by the Hon Tony Abbott, is opposed to both the carbon tax and the further cost adding MRRT and has promised to end such taxes when they are elected to office, should such taxes be imposed. The Coalition is leading in the polls. We must continue to work on our cost competitiveness to deserve our part in Australasia. Warnings or reminders from yourselves would be welcome! After the shock to exploration investment in Australia that the carbon tax and MRRT have caused, Australia needs some innovative vision to restore investment confidence. We need to learn from and follow Chin a’s and other countries examples of special economic zones, economic zones with less tax and less regulations and that are welcoming to investment and growth

All of which puts into context Tuesday’s daring stock market raid by Rinehart. She waded into the market to to acquire an additional 10 per cent holding in Fairfax Holdings, the media group which publishes the Sydney Morning Herald and the Financial Review (the Aussie equivalent of the Financial Times).

At pixel time Rinehart, who already owned a 4.9 per cent of Fairfax, was said to have picked up a further 7 per cent through her brokers Morgan Stanley.

Predictably, Rinehart’s latest foray into the media world – she also owns 10 per cent stake in Ten Network and sits on the board – has triggered all sorts of speculation and driven the Fairfax share price up 10 per cent.

The Sydney Morning Herald:

Most of the talk around the Fairfax share raid has centred around a board seat. But Gina Rinehart’s more likely course of action would be to march into chairman Roger Corbett’s office with a deal to swap her Fairfax shares for The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age and The Australian Financial Review.

That’s right; a share cancellation for three newspapers and their digital operations. The price and the outcome of such a deal might come down to how Fairfax’s institutional shareholders view the value of the major mastheads in driving internet traffic to transactional businesses such as RSVP and Domain.

That’s interesting because the Rinehart raid comes a week after the SMH published an unflattering profile of her in its weekend magazine. Moreover, Fairfax has been trying to overturn a suppression order that has prevented details of a messy Rinehart family legal dispute from becoming public.

But Reinhart’s motives look to be more subtle, according to bankers. By owning stakes in Fairfax and Ten, Australia’s richest women is sending a message to politicians in Canberra that she is a very important person and her views must be listened to.

Of course that doesn’t mean she won’t try to influence editorial policy…

From the Financial Review:

After one Ten board meeting shortly after she became a director, Rinehart lectured Lachlan Murdoch about how The Simpsons was not a family friendly show. It is not known if she was aware the long-running cartoon is one of the most important shows that Murdoch’s News Corporation has ever produced and beloved by his father, Rupert.

But she doesn’t have to.

Back to the Financial Review again:

Rinehart’s fortune was recently measured at $20 billion. Assuming this is accurate, the mining magnate is trying to spend less than 1 per cent of her wealth upping her stake in Fairfax. It’s a tiny investment for her in a sector that at present offers far less attractive returns than mining. So it seems safe to assume that Rinehart is not doing it for the money or wider strategic reasons.

It seems more likely she enjoys the cachet that comes with owning media and hopes her investments can in some way further her political and economic views. Rinehart is certainly no shrinking violet.

And given the muted reaction in Canberra to the stake building news, the message seems to be getting through.

Related link:
Rinehart sets her sights on Fairfax board in a push for power – The Australian