She’s proposed nuclear explosions for open-cut mining, funded tours by climate deniers and called for bringing in cheap migrant labour to work her mines.
Now Australia’s richest person, Gina Rinehart, has bought the largest individual stake in Fairfax Media, which runs the Sydney Morning Herald, The Age and the Australian Financial Review, plus various radio stations and regional papers.
In 2010, Rinehart bought herself a seat on the Channel 10 board when she paid $166 million for a 10% stake in the television station.
Her expansion from mining baron to media mogul is most likely not a financial decision. Rinehart is spending less than 1% of her wealth on Fairfax, and media is far less profitable than mining.
An online video first posted on YouTube by the free market Mannkal Foundation helps explain Rinehart’s move. The video shows prominent climate denier “Lord” Christopher Monckton in a meeting hosted by Mannkal in July last year.
Monckton told the audience they should encourage “super rich” backers to invest in a Fox News-style media for Australia. He said: “Frankly, whatever you do at a street level … is not going to have much of an impact compared with capturing an entire news media.”
He said setting up an Australian version of Fox News “would be a breakthrough and give to Australia a proper dose of free market thinking”.
It appears Rinehart has taken Monckton’s advice. Rinehart is buying into media so she can further her pro-mining, anti-environmental outlook.
Rinehart was groomed to take over the family mining business by her ultra-conservative father, Lang Hancock.
Alongside former Queensland Premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen, Rinehart helped launch Hancock’s 1979 book Wake Up Australia.
In words that resonate with Rinehart’s latest moves, the book said the power of government “could be broken by obtaining control of the media and then educating the public”.
Hancock continued: “Control of the press could also be obtained by several of the big mining groups banding together with a view to taking over one or more of the present giant newspaper chains which control the TV and radio channels, and converting them to the path of ‘free enterprise’”.
In a 1984 interview, Hancock said of so called half-caste Aboriginal people: “I would dope [their] water up so they were sterile and would breed themselves out. And that would solve the problem.”
Rinehart joined her father’s company when she was 21. The ABC’s Hungry Beast program said last year that the young Rinehart “announced a plan to revolutionise open cut mining by using nuclear explosions. The plan was scrapped, but 20 years later she mused: ‘It’s a pity it didn’t happen’.”
More recently, Rinehart founded the climate denial lobby group Australians for Northern Development and Economic Vision (ANDEV).
ANDEV demands the creation of “a special Northern Economic Zone stretching across the north of West Australia, the Northern Territory and Northern Queensland, where companies can bring in temporary labour”. It campaigned heavily against the Rudd government’s tax on mining super profits and lobbies for government concessions and business tax breaks.
ANDEV’s membership includes conservative mining company executives, former Pauline Hanson adviser John McRobert, Mannkal Foundation chairperson Ron Manners and prominent Australian climate denier Ian Plimer.
Rinehart has called Plimer “one of the leading sources of reasoned and factual information in Australia on global warming and climate change”. In January, she appointed him to the boards of two of her companies.
Climate of denial
In May last year, Rinehart spoke out against what she called the “global warming fear campaign” in an opinion piece in mining industry magazine Australian Resources and Investment.
She said: “Let’s consider climate change — the world has constantly changed climate and will continue to do so.
“Even before human civilisation, the world went through ice ages and periods of global warming …
“I am yet to hear scientific evidence to satisfy me that if the very, very small amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere (approximately 0.83%) was increased, it could lead to significant global warming.
“I have never met a geologist or leading scientist who believes adding more carbon dioxide to the atmosphere will have any significant effect on climate change, especially not from a relatively small country like Australia.”
Rinehart helped fund Monckton’s Australian speaking tour last year. Australian journalist Graham Readfearn described Monckton’s views in a 2011 ABC Drum opinion piece: “Among other things, Lord Monckton argues that attempts by governments and the United Nations to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases from deforestation and burning fossil fuels are part of a conspiracy to install a world government. In Lord Monckton’s eyes it’s all a socialist plot.”
Rinehart even revived the Lang Hancock Lecture at Fremantle’s Notre Dame University (which she also sponsors) so Monckton could give it.
Corporate power and the media
Other mining billionaires may also join Rinehart’s bid to shape Australia’s media in her own image.
Queensland-based coalmining magnate Clive Palmer, the Liberal Party’s biggest donor in 2010, flippantly told the February 3 Lateline that he might follow Rinehart’s lead: “You could have an east-west play with Fairfax. Gina should come from the west and buy 15% and we could buy 30% from the eastern side of Australia and really get the place humming again.”
Rinehart’s grab for Fairfax and Network Ten is meant to make sure any views that challenge her industry, which depends on making climate change much worse, are squeezed out of the media.
However, the corporate rich’s control of the media is hardly limited to Rinehart. It is the rule, not the exception.
Channel Ten’s board, for example, not only includes Rinehart, but also James Packer, Lachlan Murdoch, and Paul Mallam, the nominee of billionaire media baron Bruce Gordon.
Perth-based billionaire Kerry Stokes has big stakes in The West Australian newspaper and Channel Seven. Alongside Stokes, The West Australian’s directors include the CEOs of Woodside Petroleum and Rio Tinto Australia.
Even without Rinehart, the Fairfax board is packed with people with interests in mining, energy, retail and the military.
Australia already has the most monopolised media in Western world. Fairfax controls about 30% of Australia’s newspaper market. Rupert Murdoch’s News Limited owns most of the rest.
Before Rinehart decided to become a media mogul, the corporate media had already shown their bias toward climate denial. For example, Monckton’s 2010 Australian speaking tour coincided with a tour by the world’s most famous climate scientist, James Hansen. A Media Monitors study found Monckton received 455 media mentions. Hansen was mentioned just 21 times.
The mainstream media like to present the illusion that they offer “choice”. But similar to the “choice” offered between two conservative parties in Labor and the Coalition, mainstream media options are false choices. Whether rabidly through Andrew Bolt and The Australian, or more subtly through the Fairfax media, debate is limited to what fits within the confines of the status quo.
Rinehart’s push to control the media will make all these things much worse. But the core problem is not a lack of diversity in media ownership. It is that all the mainstream media are owned by members of a tiny, super rich corporate class.
Super-rich players like Rinehart, who monopolise key sections of the Australian economy, have already shown they will use their wealth to corrupt the political process, to control the media, and even get rid of elected Prime Ministers who dare to touch their interests.
Rinehart’s grab for more media influence means the alternative media — the media that are independent of corporate interests — are more important than ever. This struggle for a genuinely independent media is also part of a broader struggle, which requires breaking apart the huge concentration of wealth and power in so few hands and replacing it with a society founded on grassroots democracy, equality and sustainable human development.