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Wealthiest Australian is made of the same metal as her famous father

Australian men had only just recovered from the news that a female was holding the reins of political power when they were told another woman was also richer than any of them.

Gina Rinehart's combined wealth, estimated at US$9 billion (Dh33.05bn) and accelerating, now puts the second-richest Australian in the shade.

In its annual wealth list, Forbes Asia deemed Ms Rinehart's wealth to be 30 per cent greater than her fellow iron ore magnate Andrew Forrest, and twice that of the third-richest man, the media and gambling scion James Packer.

Her rise to number one on the list is largely due to her half share of the Rio Tinto-operated Hope Downs iron ore mine in the Pilbara region of Western Australia, which entered full production in 2009 just as prices for the metal began to surge.

Forbes gave her the top billing based on the speculation that with the iron ore price at $150 a tonne (it is now closer to $190), Ms Rinehart's 15 million tonnes of Hope Downs production generated annual sales of $2.25bn, leaving her an estimated cash flow of about $1.7bn.

Ms Rinehart, 57, also has stakes in a few public companies worth about $400 million, including the Ten Network and Fairfax Media. But most of her empire, which also includes Queensland coal mines, is privately held and owned through a maze of family trusts.

The daughter of one of Australia's most revered and hard-headed mining pioneers, Lang Hancock, she took over the family company on his death in 1992.

Then 38, she was a widow with four children and an estate mired in legal battles. It would take her a decade to prise her father's mining empire from her stepmother Rose Porteous - her father's former maid - and his former business partner Peter Wright.

A reclusive who rarely engages with the state's mining elite, Ms Rinehart is said to possess the same grit as her legendary father.

"With Gina, there has never been any young, shy little schoolgirl who has blossomed into the business magnate," the businessman and friend Jack Cowin says. "Lang's characteristics have been with her all her life."

Mr Cowin says it was the family trait of single-minded persistence that has got her through. "Lang died with that dream unfulfilled and Gina has spent her entire adult life pursuing the completion of her father's dream," he says.

As one media commentator says. "It's not for nothing that she is known as the Iron Lady of the Pilbara."

Last year Ms Rinehart and other mining notables paid for a series of strident anti-mining tax TV commercials at a cost of $22m. She then bought shares in major print and TV assets, which included board seats. It is said she has not been backwards in exerting her influence there.

The result has been that another strong woman, the Australian prime minister Julia Gillard, has put the mining tax on the backburner.

There is also some irony in a media-shy woman buying her way into the very industry she disdains, but Ms Rinehart is said to be on a mission to lift the importance of mining in the Australian psyche and redefine government policy.

Abolishing the mining tax is part of it, but she is also said to favour bringing in cheap Asian labour to develop Australian mines as "guest workers", and is at odds with the science of climate change.

She may not be that well known but given these hobby-horses, Ms Rinehart is hardly an enigma.

 

business@thenational.ae

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