Georgina “Gina” Rinehart is as Australian as Vegemite, and like the iconic spread, she attracts some strong opinions. Rinehart is the chairman and heiress of Hancock Prospecting, a privately owned mineral exploration company specialising in iron ore. She has appeared on the BRW Rich List every year since 1992, and in 2012 was the richest woman in the world with an estimated worth of around $30 billion. By 2016, it had dropped to $6 billion thanks to the end of the mining boom, but Rinehart continues to wield economic and political clout in the Australian landscape.
Growing up a Hancock
Rinehart was born in Perth in 1954, the only child of Hope Nicholas and Lang Hancock, an iron ore magnate. Hancock had wanted a boy: Georgina was a compromise on his plan to name his son George after his own father. Rinehart spent her first few years near the small mining town of Wittenoom, before her parents moved the family to Perth to be close to other families and medical services.
Rinehart boarded at St Hilda’s Anglican School for Girls in Perth and then studied economics at the University of Sydney for a year before dropping out to join her father in the family mining business. Her childhood had equipped her well to help him: Rinehart grew up accompanying her father to business meetings and inherited all of his passion for the industry. When she was old enough to drive, legend has it that Lang had 10 new cars brought to her school and invited her to choose one. By 22, she was known as the richest girl in Australia.
The family disputes
Rinehart went to work at Wittenoom, where she met a young Englishman also employed by Hancock. They married when she was just 19 and had two children. The younger child, Bianca, was born in 1979 when Rinehart was 25, by which time the marriage was on the rocks. The pair formally separated later that year.
In 1983, the now 29-year-old Rinehart met her second husband, American lawyer Frank Rinehart. At 57, he was a handful of years younger than her father. The match didn’t impress Hancock, who saw Rinehart as having an eye on the family fortunes. He refused to attend the wedding and sacked his daughter as a director of the Hancock companies.
Rinehart’s mother Hope died in the same year, and when Gina chose to contest the will, Hancock convinced himself that it was Gina’s new husband egging her on. To make matters worse, Hancock became romantically involved with his young housekeeper, Rose Lacson, and the Rineharts disapproved. Acrimonious letters passed between Rinehart and her father, whose relationship never recovered.
Frank Rinehart died in 1990, leaving Rinehart with another two children - she has four in total. Lang Hancock died in 1992, and Rose Lacson, whom he had married in 1985, quickly remarried to become Rose Porteous. What followed was a 12-year dispute over the circumstances of Hancock’s death, resulting in national publicity and a further souring of Rinehart’s reputation.
None of it stopped Rinehart from pursuing what she saw as the best interests of Hancock Prospecting. Under Hancock’s will, Porteous inherited around $50M in real estate, but the company belonged to his daughter. She inherited 76.6% outright, with the remainder going to the Hope Margaret Hancock Trust which names Rinehart’s four children as beneficiaries. A subsequent family dispute in 2012 saw Rinehart step down as trustee, but she has always had effective sole control over the company’s business dealings.
Under Rinehart’s leadership, Hancock Prospecting has soared. Hancock’s mining activities were largely limited to prospecting and accumulating vast mining leases, whereas Rinehart is a more proactive owner. When she inherited the estate, it was estimated at around $75M, with Rio Tinto royalties of $12M a year keeping the rest of the operation afloat.
Since then, Rinehart has pursued a number of joint ventures, including an expansion of Hope Downs (named for her mother), developing the Roy Hill mine in conjunction with a South Korean company, and a ferrous manganese mine at Nicholas Downs. In 2011, Citigroup compiled a list of the world’s ten largest new mining projects: three of them were Rinehart’s.
In 2010, Rinehart bought a 10% stake in Ten Network Holdings, and in 2012 acquired subsequent stakes in Fairfax Media to become the largest stakeholder by June of that year. She sought a seat on the board but was thwarted by her refusal to agree to the charter of editorial independence. Frustrated by what she perceived as a lack of leadership, she sold her stake in 2015.
On a personal level, Rinehart has never courted the media. Her staff are often required to sign non-disclosure agreements, as are members of her family. Her reputation as an experienced and determined litigant mean that few defy the agreement.
Politics and philanthropy
She has, however, been outspoken about her political views. She believes that the minimum wage should be lowered or abolished, taxes on business should be similarly cut, and has urged those with less money to “do something to make more money yourselves - spend less time drinking”. She’s also an outspoken climate change denialist and has hosted speaking tours by high profile professional deniers as well as think tanks to influence the media on the issue.
Her philanthropy is concentrated on education, including construction of a girl’s orphanage in Cambodia, supporting emerging swimmers through a funding arrangement, and donating to the exclusive Anglican boarding school which she attended as a girl. If there are other gifts, she keeps them guarded.
Rinehart has always been passionate about Australia. Her projects take place on Australian soil, and she is deeply concerned about the future of the country. Whether Australia returns the concern depends on who you ask, but nobody can deny that Gina Rinehart has made her mark on its landscape.
This article was written by Tanya Ashworth-Keppel on behalf of the Australian Institute of Business. All opinions are that of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of AIB. The following sources were used to compile this article: Australian Financial Review, New Yorker, The Guardian, Forbes and The Age.