Rinehart's offer to step down as trustee only a beginning

Gina Rinehart has never shied away from a legal dust-up but the battle with two of her children seems to be an exception to her rule.

Gina Rinehart has never shied away from a legal dust-up but the battle with two of her children seems to be an exception to her rule.

It prompted her to raise the white flag in court on Tuesday by offering to step down as trustee of the $5 billion family trust to avoid a trial set for next week.

Her lawyer, Bruce McClintock, argued that her decision to step down should mean "that this litigation is essentially over". But when it comes to the House of Hancock, nothing is ever that simple.

McClintock outlined a range of reasons for the decision, including the "untenable" risk of damage to the family group of companies and the impact on the family, which is "making one ill".

The stakes are high and her two estranged children, John Hancock and Bianca Rinehart, want their day in court to deal with allegations of "deceitful conduct".

It seems the only way Rinehart can avoid a trial is if all parties can come to an agreement on who will be the new trustee and an adequate financial settlement is reached. They are two big hurdles, particularly given she wants the new trustee to be a lineal descendent.

It will depend on how much she wants it all to go away. For John Hancock the news of his mother offering to step down was "a step in the right direction" but he said his next issue in this affair was "professional ethics".

He no doubt was referring to some of the professional advice - and threats of bankruptcy - that had been given over the family trust being allowed to vest on its due date in September 2011. Emails from one of Rinehart's closest lieutenants in the Hancock Prospecting empire, Jay Newby, warned John Hancock he would be hunted down like Christopher Skase unless he ceded control of the family's multibillion-dollar trust to his mother.

Newby sent a series of explosive emails a day after Rinehart warned her four children they would be bankrupted if the trust was allowed to vest.

Hancock later received a private binding ruling from the Australian Tax Office that said no capital gains tax was payable by the beneficiaries on vesting of the trust.

In other emails released to the court it emerged that Newby told accountancy giant PricewaterhouseCoopers to prepare two versions of its advice on the trust vesting and send a "sanitised" version to the children.

Rinehart might have discharged herself as trustee, and hope that the litigation with her children is done, but there will be a lot more twists and turns before the battle reaches its conclusion.

McClintock's words that "she's departed the scene, so to speak" might be a tad premature.

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