“Women need to work harder”
Despite the intense public fascination in Gina Rinehart, the richest person in Australia, she remains fiercely private. In a rare interview, she talks to Stellar about family, philanthropy – and her advice to other women
While granting a rare interview, Australia’s richest person Gina Rinehart talks candidly to Stellar about family, giving back and her career advice to women.
Cruising down the Thames on a vintage umpire’s boat behind the Australian rowing team, Gina Rinehart is in her element. Perched at the front of the wooden- decked Ulysses in a floral pantsuit, gold heels and her signature pearls, with the wind whipping her hair in the wake of the women’s eight heat, Australia’s richest person can’t wipe the smile off her face.
“It was such a thrill,” the notoriously private 64-year- old beams as she sits down with Stellar shortly after her adventure on the iconic river. Time is of the essence when it comes to the world’s seventh wealthiest woman – while she talks to Stellar on a makeshift barge that has been cleared out for her, a charter jet awaits to fly her to yet another European city directly afterwards.
Yet she says she always has time for the athletes she supports through her eponymous Georgina Hope Foundation. “I think it is important that we back young people who are striving for excellence, striving to represent our country at the top levels,” Rinehart says as she looks out over the river at the athletes competing below. “I think they form good role models for a lot of other people. [In] sport there is no such thing as selfentitlement. It is really how much you put in as a person, be you a male [or] a female,” she says.
Sports, and especially Olympic ones that promote women, are a passion of Rinehart’s, and through Hancock Prospecting, the company that made her family billions (Rinehart herself is estimated to be worth $24 billion), she has donated tens of millions over the years to the Australian swimming, volleyball, synchronised swimming and, most recently, rowing teams. Yet there are those who accuse her of using philanthropy to advance her personal profile.
The only child of trailblazing West Australian iron ore magnate Lang Hancock has been a polarising figure in Australian business, society and politics – and even her own family – for years. She rarely speaks to media and is guarded in many of her rare interactions with selected press; when she speaks to Stellar she’s softly spoken, polite and engaging – but clearly on guard. Even her most senior staff refer to their boss as “Mrs Rinehart” at all times.
Personally, ongoing bitter legal stoushes with two of her four adult children – John Hancock, 42, and Bianca Rinehart, 41 – haven’t helped. There are also disputes with the heirs of Lang Hancock’s former business partner Peter Wright, along with a close friendship with former deputy prime minister Barnaby Joyce.
Last year Rinehart controversially awarded Joyce the National Agriculture and Related Industries Day award and a subsequent $40,000 cheque (which was given back).
“It wasn’t given under the table. It wasn’t given behind closed doors. It was given not only for everyone there to see, but all the media present to see,” she says in her first public defence of the money. “He is a good man.”
Those who orbit in Rinehart’s circle say she is misunderstood. “Before I met Gina all I had heard was negative things about her and I thought she was a mean bitch,” says renowned neurosurgeon Dr Charlie Teo, whose foundation has received funding from Rinehart. “But now we’ve formed a relationship and she has been incredibly generous not only with her money, which has been given unconditionally and without the desire for kudos, but also with her time and personal support. She has got a good soul and she very much is misunderstood. She’s got a heart and a big heart at that.”
Rinehart says she has not overly publicised Hancock Prospecting’s and her own philanthropic undertakings – from sports and school scholarships to hospitals and cancer charities – because she was raised not to expect applause. “When I was growing up it was not proper to talk about philanthropy, so although we have quietly been building our philanthropic endeavours over the years there is still a little bit of that culture,” she says.
Meanwhile, Rinehart’s eldest son John and his sister Bianca have been engaged in an acrimonious seven-year legal battle with their mother regarding the multibillion- dollar Hope Margaret Hancock family trust, and say that their mother’s philanthropic efforts are mainly to improve her public image. John Hancock is clearly angry. “It doesn’t matter if you’re a swimmer or a son, the moment you don’t do something she wants or give her advice she wants you’re dumped,” Londonbased Hancock tells Stellar while on a family holiday in the Atlas Mountains in Morocco. “When you read your own mother’s handwriting in the margins of legal documents… it makes familial relations a tad trying. ”
For her part, Rinehart says she has worked hard her entire life to provide for all of her children but would not be drawn on the legal disputes or who should take over Hancock Prospecting once she steps down. “I certainly have done enough to keep my children comfortable all their lives,” she says. “It wouldn’t be fair on my children to comment [on who should take over the company].”
Love or loathe her, no- one can dispute her steely determination or work ethic. Her ipad never strays far from her hand and she admits to “never not working”.
And Rinehart is clearly not one for flowery sentiments. When asked what advice she’d offer other women, she does not mince her words. “If you want to go further up the ladder what you should be doing is working through lunches, working later,” she says. “Willing to, even on holidays or public holidays, be available. Because what you should be wanting is that you’ve achieved that position yourself – you are worthy of that position. I don’t think [gender] quotas can do that. It’s got to always be, if a woman wants an executive position… they should put in that extra, put in more than their colleagues.”
“I’ve certainly done enough to keep my children comfortable all their lives”