THE DISTILLERY: Being Gina

One jotter picks over new tidbits on Gina Rinehart's relationship with Roger Corbett, while another shows why Alcoa counts.

The importance that Australia’s richest person places on privacy has left commentators picking at scraps for insights into her character. In this morning’s shot from The Distillery, Elizabeth Knight and Adele Ferguson deliver some interesting details about her interactions with the upper echelons of Fairfax Media – both are columnists for the company – and an insight into the two greatest influences in her life. Also, we have a surprising statistic about the Greek population and an explanation as to why 600 Alcoa workers are so important to Labor.

But first we start with Fairfax’s Elizabeth Knight, who offers some interesting insights into the communications between Rinehart and Fairfax Media chairman Roger Corbett.

"Despite the critical nature of the deal, the Fairfax chairman, Roger Corbett, can't simply pick up the phone and call Rinehart. One uses email to request a conversation with the Perth iron ore billionaire. When she is ready, she calls Corbett. The intensity of the negotiations notwithstanding, Rinehart has spoken to Corbett at most three times. On these occasions she has been reserved but amiable. Normally dealings are done Fairfax chairman to Rinehart factotum. There was another round of talks this week as Rinehart pressed her case for three board seats and restated her unwillingness to sign anything that would prevent her from influencing the company's editorial direction. The board offered some small concessions and Rinehart said she would think about it.”

Meanwhile, Rinehart biographer and Fairfax columnist Adele Ferguson – cynics argue, too strongly for The Distillery’s taste, that these two roles could one day become synonymous – looks at two of the largest influences on billionaire Gina Rinehart. They are her father Lang Hancock and her second husband Frank Rinehart, who passed in 1990.

"Although the men despised each other, their respective influences helped her fulfil a dream to create a mining empire. For her son John, his mother's fighting side really came out after her marriage to Frank: ‘Before, she could have her moments when things weren't done right, but there were many wonderful times Bianca and I had with her in Wittenoom, in the gorge pools and sitting listening to my grandfather's stories. After her marriage to Frank there was a documentary where LGH [Langley George Hancock] said it left him feeling lonely. He married Rose, the absolute disaster point for our family. That event could've been handled better but it became a split that was inflamed by how Frank dealt with an unfortunate choice of a lonely man,’ John said.”

Elsewhere, The Australian Financial Review’s Tony Walker says he might have an answer as to why Labor is propping up Alcoa’s aluminium smelter in Geelong.

"The plant and its 600 workers are within the boundaries of the federal electorate of Corio, held by parliamentary secretary Richard Marles. But many of these workers live in the electorate of Corangamite which adjoins Corio. Corangamite is Labor’s most marginal seat. Corio is one of its 10 safest on the basis of the 2010 election result, although a redistribution has made it marginally less secure.”

And Fairfax’s Jessica Irvine delivers a surprising statistic about the industrious nation of Greece (strange, you’re right) that reveals possibly more about just how misleading statistics can be.

"One popular sentiment is that if only the lazy Greeks could emulate their hard-working German cousins, Europe could lift itself out of its quagmire. But the numbers don't back this up. In fact, figures from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development on average annual hours worked by employees show Greeks already work some of the longest hours of advanced economies (2109 per worker in 2010), while Germans work some of the lowest (1419).

"Does that surprise you? It shouldn't. The success of economies is not typically determined by the number of hours they work, but the productivity of their labour. It is, after all, one of the signs of success if you don't have to work as hard to produce a higher standard of living. Australian workers, incidentally, also sit at the lower end of the average hours worked spectrum, at 1686 hours a year. Of course, this includes both part- and full-time workers, and does not take into account the proportion of full-time workers who work very long hours.”

Sticking with economics for the moment, The Australian Financial Review’s Alan Mitchell ponders where the next financial crisis will come from and speculates that it’ll be due to not learning from past mistakes. Fairfax’s Ross Gittins brings his readers into the increasingly compelling concept of environmental capital, while in a separate piece Gittins addresses Australia’s higher savings rate.

The Australian’s economics correspondent Adam Creighton brings a report from the IMF saying that when the size of the finance sector exceeds the actual GDP – as is the case in Australia – it’s a bad thing. The same newspaper’s David Uren brings word from the federal Bureau of Resources and Energy that resources projects under construction could drop from 98 to 13 by 2015. Anyone who thinks Australia has an unshakable mining boom is quite mistaken if this is true

And, The Australian Financial Review’s Robert Guy regrets the abandonment of sound central bank principles laid down by Walter Bagehot in Lombard Street almost 140 years ago.

In company news, Fairfax’s Michael West tries to pivot some attention on Rinehart’s financial reports at Hancock Prospecting, with all eyes on her Fairfax boardroom confrontation. The Australian’s Richard Gluyas gives his take on the power battle at Echo Entertainment. Meanwhile, Fairfax’s Insider columnist Ian McIlwraith looks at the growing concern at the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) for both of these developing stories.

Elsewhere, Fairfax’s Malcolm Maiden pleads for the federal government to hear the cries of Qantas Airways that foreign ownership is a matter of life or death for the airline.

And finally, The Australian’s Paul Garvey says this week’s election in Mongolia will hopefully reduce some of the uncertainty plaguing Australian companies working in the region.