Friday, February 3, 2012

Australia's Worst Person

For years I thought this had to be John Howard.

The rat like cunning, the hatred of gay people, black folk and anyone not born in Australia who couldn't prove their links back to an Anglo Saxon origin. To say nothing of the mangling of the language, the GST, no apology, middle class welfare, Tampa, Cornelia Rau, Workchoices and the ridiculous veneration of his holy trinity of Bradman, Gallipoli and Menzies.

Really, when it came to considering Australia's worst, the bloke had form.

But... he got old and having been unceremoniously booted out of his seat in 2007, he retired from politics and public life, save for the odd occasion when he pops up as the guest of a right wing think tank, giving his views on contemporary society and reminding us all just how awful he was.

Post Howard, public life in Australia has been somewhat lacking for villains.

Kevin Rudd gave it a shot, at least among his colleagues, but he was so awful that they did away with him before he could really entrench himself in the position. And the woman who ousted him, Julia Gillard, just doesn't have enough elan, enough panache, to really cut it as a villain. She simply plods along, largely reviled and abused on all sides, nodding her head earnestly as people call her a witch and promising to do better next time. As for her opponent, Tony Abbott has the panache for villainy, but not enough substance to make people really care what's he up to, like a baddie in a 'Police Academy' movie.

Where then to turn, to try and find Australia's Worst Person, if we're not to find them in their traditional breeding ground; Federal politics? A reasonable back up option might be the business community, and so perhaps we should consider...

... Gina Rineheart.

Head of mining company 'Hancock Prospecting' (founded by her late father Lang Hancock) since 1992 and Australia's richest person, Rineheart has, until recent times, kept a low profile and herself out of the news. But in these recent times, Rineheart has lurched awkwardly into public life, exposing, at least on occasions, the dark heart that lies within and making a pretty fair case that she could be Australia's Worst Person.

Consider the evidence:

1. In 2010, the then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd proposed a new tax on inflated profits in the mining industry. Fuelled largely by China, mining in Australia is enjoying a decade long boom, as our non renewable resources are dug up and shipped overseas at record prices. The companies that do this digging and shipping are, in most cases, largely owned by overseas interests, meaning that a good chunk of the revenue generated by this industry flows back out of the country. In other words, we are selling off a very valuable but finite resource and most of the money is going elsewhere. Hence Labor's 'Super Tax' policy, designed to claw back a bit of this cash so that the Government can use some of it to build things - roads, schools, hospitals - for the benefit of people that actually live here. Something that Ms Rinehart definitely did not want to see. The new tax threatened the gi-normous profits her company rakes in each year, and so we were treated to the grim spectacle of one of the world's wealthiest people taking to the back of a flat bed truck to demand that she be allowed to keep a disproportionate share of her income.

Rinehart, and her fellow wealthy CEO's from the industry, would spend $22 million on an advertising campaign against the tax, claiming (quite inaccurately) that's its introduction would mean the end of the mining industry in this country. But, it has to be said, that her approach was successful, as bad polling followed in the wake of the advertising, Labor would dump both Rudd and the policy.

2. Having bested her regulatory enemies and sent the Government away to whimper in the corner, Rinehart was free to do what she pleased with her mining interests. Free, for example, to sell a massive chunk of Western Australia to a Korean mining company, as she did earlier this year. South Korean steel company 'Posco' now own 15% of the Roy Hill iron ore mine in WA, which Rinehart sold to them for $1.5 billion. So she has a little walking around money, even if we don't, as the cash will flow to her pocket and bypass the tax system almost entirely. Thank goodness we got rid of that tax, eh?

3. With the above two events having generated some fairly negative media coverage, eventually, Rinehart then took some pin money, a lazy $200 million , and increased her stake in Fairfax media to 13% (up from 5%). While a long way short of a controlling interest, Rinehart's stake make her one of Fairfax's largest private shareholders. With the publisher of 'The Age' and 'The Sydney Morning Herald,' wobbling somewhat, as part of the general malaise in the newspaper industry, they could be ripe for someone with deep pockets, guess who, to take over in the near future. Rinehart also owns 10% of Channel 10, and sits on their board of directors, meaning that she is quickly turning into one of Australia's largest media owners. You don't need to have seen 'Citizen Kane' to know what happens when wealthy business people with no scruples get involved in running the media.

4. With her wealth skyrocketing and her grip on the nation's airwaves inexorably tightening, there is a rumour about that Rinehart may move into politics proper. If this proves to be true (and I honestly doubt it, since she can influence our elected officials so easily now, why bother with campaigning every three years?), you would probably want to be very concerned. At least, if an article Rinehart wrote last year is anything to go by. In it, Rinehart outlines some of her ideas as to what sort of country Australia should be; low taxing, small government, brutal on criminals, favourable to low paid guest workers, people like herself free to drive around the streets in Hummers running poor people over and doing pretty much anything else they feel like. It's such a chilling vision, she should perhaps consider moving to the States and running for President as a Republican.

So what do we think? Do we have a new champion? Australia's Worst Person?

I'll print the tee-shirts...

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