Gina Rinehart – a new queen of mean?

The mining tycoon risks losing emerging bipartisan political support with graceless comments on issues that are increasingly relevant.

Gina Rinehart will be most unimpressed this morning when she reads the newly released World Economic Forum report on competitiveness. In her now infamous presentation to the Sydney mining club earlier this week she used the report as a keystone for her argument the nation’s smoking, drinking workers should stop having fun and work harder.

But the latest report from the World Economic Forum actually says that Australia has held its place in the global competitiveness ranking in the last 12 months. What's more, while the report does highlight weak labour regulation and high wage costs it also praises Australia's improved infrastructure and sound banking system.

And call it what you like – the WEF may have its faults – but you could hardly brand it a left leaning enterprise out to undermine business. Complaints like that are more often leveled at the media such as...well...Fairfax, where Rinehart is a significant shareholder. Or maybe the BBC might spring to mind, the UK broadcaster gleefully reported the Sydney Mining Club presentation where Rinehart warned Australian workers that their African counterparts are willing to work for $2 a day.

The BBC even went so far as to estimate that Rinehart was probably making $600 a minute while she referenced the unfortunate African mine workers making roughly one-sixtieth of the Australian minimum wage.

Rinehart really is her own worst enemy: Her point about highly paid Australian miners is critical as iron ore prices fall sharply. Indeed the point was perfectly well explained elsewhere in her presentation with the fact that US resource industry workers get paid 35 per cent less than workers doing the same jobs here.

Similarly her recent suggestion that some people would be more successful if they smoked, gambled and drank less might not be censored at your local golf club. But such observations are reinterpreted as an evil manifesto when uttered by Rinehart, who now endures the sort of disdain in some quarters not witnessed since the one-time 'Queen of Mean' Leona Helmsley who famously told a court 'only the little people pay taxes.'

Typical of this week’s international coverage was a report in New York’s Atlantic Wire which said Rinehart is; ‘the kind of stinking rich, socially ham-fisted character that is so easy to hate.”

Such barbs are hardly fair. Gina Rinehart is no Leona Helmsley: If Harvey Norman’s Gerry Harvey went around making similar observations people would chuckle, if Jac Nasser of BHP echoed these sentiments they would nod gravely.

Ironically, the flare-up came on the same week that Rinehart clearly managed to garner some bilateral support for her causes - Labor's mining minister Martin Ferguson cited his respect for Rinehart as a major employer in the mining industry, while coalition treasury spokesman Joe Hockey said his party would be willing to examine Rinehart's proposal for a special economic zone in the north west.

Rinehart is going to struggle with falling revenues in the months ahead… now more than ever she needs to influence Canberra but with each passing faux-pax she becomes more isolated even from those would support her.

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