Readying for a Rinehart ruse?

John Hancock may not be serious in calling for Colin Barnett’s intervention in his family's very public feud, but he is serious about using the media to ratchet up pressure on his mother Gina.

SmartCompany

So the bitter split between Gina Rinehart and her children Hope Rinehart Welker, John Hancock and Bianca Rinehart will be fought out in open court if the parties cannot come up with a settlement sooner rather than later.

On Friday, Rinehart lost her High Court bid to keep details of the case suppressed and, as a result, we now know more about what is at the heart of the fight.

Hope, Bianca and John want to remove their mother as trustee of a trust that controls 25 per cent of Hancock Prospecting and presumably controls the flow of hundreds of millions of dollars. The children’s key argument is that they are not getting a big enough share of the benefits of the trust, which is controlled by Gina.

The kids were expecting the trust to vest last year, when Rinehart’s youngest daughter Ginia – the one child who has sided with her mother – turned. But the children claim that Gina secretly extended the vesting date of the trust to 2068, which means the kids may not get their inheritance for 56 years. Gina herself would be 112 years old if she managed to make it to 2068.

Emails sent by Ginia to her sister Hope have been released over the weekend, showing Ginia switched support from her siblings to her mother.

"You know at the bottom of your heart this lawyer stuff will NEVER work and all that will result is one massive tax leaving you in bankruptcy,” Ginia told her sister.

More interesting, however, were statements released by John Hancock and Gina Rinehart yesterday in response to comments by Western Australia Premier Colin Barnett.

Barnett described the family fight as a "soap opera” and said the Rinehart-Hancocks should "solve it yourself and let’s move forward”.

This prompted John Hancock to call on the premier to step into the dispute himself.

"What the premier could do, at this juncture, is show leadership by providing a solution short-circuiting a long court process – and ask Gina to step down from a position that is doubtful she can hold until the ripe age of 112,” Hancock said in a statement.

"This is the matter that is before the courts and my mother can solve immediately by stepping down and appointing [her] adult children, who all hold university degrees, as co-trustees, or those who so agree to the position.”

Exactly how the premier could step in the middle of a bitter family feud is beyond me. Compel Gina to step down as trustee? Draft new "no family dispute” laws for Western Australia?

I don’t think John Hancock is serious in calling for Barnett’s intervention, but I think he is serious about using the media to ratchet up pressure on his mother.

It’s doubtful that John, Hope and Bianca want the details of this case in the media, but they appear to have decided that by allowing the family’s dirty linen to be aired in court they can embarrass Gina into a settlement she apparently won’t make in private.

Will it work? The children probably don’t have much to lose, given so many details of their private lives and relationships with their mother have been revealed already. John, for example, has had to reveal his weekly income (about $20,000, made from day trading) as part of his case.

But Gina isn’t afraid of litigation. She has been through lengthy family cases before (most notably with her former mother-in-law, Rose Porteous) and she knows she can fund a case for far longer than her children.

Rinehart’s lawyer released a statement yesterday saying that Gina’s preference is for "confidential mediation and/or arbitration” rather than "time-wasting litigation”.

But getting either side around the negotiating table doesn’t look easy right now. Will embarrassment eventually force one party to blink?

This article first appeared on SmartCompany on March 12. Republished with permission.