The Distillery: Family ties

One jotter ponders Sophie Mirabella's replacement, while another delves into one of the final conversations between John and Lang Hancock.

Incoming prime minister Tony Abbott has two tasks ahead of him that have grabbed the attention of a pair of business scribes – innovation and the budget. Also in this morning’s edition of The Distillery, the journalist who stands head, shoulders and probably elbows above her peers on the Rinehart family bust-up provides another stellar offering.

The Australian Financial Review’s Chanticleer columnist Tony Boyd considers the prospect of Western Australia’s Dennis Jensen, the person with the highest scientific qualifications in the Coalition, getting the crucial innovation, industry and science portfolio. Sophie Mirrabella was in line for the job, but it looks like even the favourable postal votes won’t save her from losing the seat of Indi.

“Jensen says he is concerned that Australia is not commercialising the inventions and intellectual property coming out of university research. He said he made it known to Tony Abbott’s office that he was keen to take over from Mirabella. Jensen agrees with Bruce Grey from the Advanced Manufacturing Co-operative Research Centre that Australian manufacturers are not sufficiently aware of the government programs that are available to them. Grey, who is seeking to rebid for another $50 million in federal government funding for the Advanced Manufacturing CRC, says the understanding of government programs is woeful. Over the course of putting together his bid in partnership with universities and established manufacturers, he came across a high level of ignorance about exactly what a CRC does.”

The Australian Financial Review’s economics editor, Alan Mitchell, says Abbott recognised the mistake from former prime minister Julia Gillard in breaking her unmistakable promise that there wouldn’t be a carbon tax. He’s pledging to be a PM without excuses.

“Abbott’s economic challenges are in the medium term. The budget strategy inherited from Labor is likely to get the budget back into surplus in the middle of the decade, but only temporarily. Realistic projections show the deficit opening up again in the second half of the decade. With the terms of trade in secular decline and the undertow of demographic change, the economy also could be struggling to generate the magic combination of sustained full employment and strong, real income growth. A big part of the answer to both problems is productivity growth. But the economic reforms that can generate sustained higher productivity growth take years to produce a significant dividend.”

Fairfax’s Adele Ferguson delivers another incendiary piece, an exclusive, detailing comments from John Hancock that he’s pushing his mother Gina to the legal limit on control of a family trust because of his grandfather Lang – because of a conversation that happened just hours before Lang’s death.

“It was a cold and blustery day in the spring of 1992 when Hancock flew out of Boston to begin the 32-hour trip he'd made numerous times before, first to pass tests and interviews, then to attend the school whose roll call of illustrious alumni include actor Humphrey Bogart and presidents George Bush senior and junior. However, never before had he been summonsed home by his grandfather. Years earlier, in 1985, Hancock's mother, Gina Rinehart, had moved the family to Texas. She did so after a monumental falling out with her father over his controversial marriage to Rose Porteous — and the millions of dollars he lavished on his young wife in the form of a jet, cars, parties, travel, glitzy jewellery and the palatial Prix d'Amour mansion in Perth's Mosman Park that had been modelled on Gone With The Wind's Tara. Arriving in Perth, Hancock was shocked by the shrunken appearance of the man he saw lying in bed. ‘He looked much weaker than I'd ever seen him,’ he says of his then 82-year-old grandfather, who was battling kidney, heart and lung complications. ‘He'd lost a lot of weight. He took my hand and said, 'You've got to be strong as you will need to run everything one day.'”

In terms of this story Ferguson is head and shoulders above the rest of the commentariat.

As part of a Fairfax special on the five-year anniversary of the collapse of Lehman Brothers, Malcolm Maiden reflects on the immediate aftermath. Specifically, Maiden looks at the $US2500 billion the US Federal Reserve and the European Central Bank pumped into the financial system, the effects of which are still being felt today.

Maiden’s colleague Elizabeth Knight carries comments from Westpac Bank boss Gail Kelly about how depositors were rocking up to branches with suitcases to load their savings into as headlines filled them with fear.

The Australian’s Richard Gluyas reports comments from retired chief justice of the Supreme Court of SA, John Doyle, about the utterly ridiculous 20-year legal battle between Westpac and Bell Group, which is in liquidation.

And finally, The Australian's Andrew White writes that all treasurers seem to get one big foreign takeover that ticks all the boxes but one... that worrying political sniff test. Incoming treasurer Joe Hockey has his right off the bat with Archer Daniels Midland's tilt at GrainCorp.

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