In the wash-up from America’s presidential election, much is being made of the hundreds of millions of dollars that conservative billionaires spent trying to secure a Republican victory.
Reports suggest casino mogul Sheldon Adelson spent somewhere in the vicinity of $US150 million, while arch conservatives David and Charles Koch are believed to have spent a similar amount.
That these billionaires’ money failed to affect the election result is obviously been cheered by Democrats and jeered by large sectors of the media, including the business press, which in most instances has categorised these donations as investments gone bad.
The role that these billionaires played in the US political process, both in front of and behind the scenes, raises some interesting questions as Australia heads into an election year.
What role will Australia’s wealthiest political donors play in the lead-up to next year’s poll? Will our most prominent billionaire donor, Clive Palmer, kiss and make up with the Coalition and throw big dollars at a LNP win? And what of those billionaires like James Packer and Frank Lowy, who like to have a bet each way, donating roughly equal amounts to Labor and the Coalition?
And perhaps most importantly, what role will Australia’s richest person, Gina Rinehart, decide to take in the political process?
It’s a question that has been rattling around my brain in the past week since I got my hands on a copy of Rinehart’s new book, which is called Northern Australia and then some: Changes we need to make our country rich.
It’s closer to a family scrapbook than a weighty tome – partly a compendium of speeches and articles; partly a timeline of her family’s empire; partly a tribute to her parents; partly a collection of her much-maligned poetry; partly a chance for her friends and supporters to say nice things about her in print; partly a collection of cartoons.
It’s also a bit of a mess. There’s a foreword, a preface, a preamble, three dedications and an introduction before you hit the guts of the book.
However the introduction, written by Rinehart herself, is without doubt the key to the entire book. It’s the only really new piece of writing and it’s perhaps the best encapsulation of Rinehart’s view of the world we’ve had yet.
Beyond our means
Rinehart starts the introduction with an extract from Andrew Bolt’s Bolt Report television show, where her favourite journalist interviews David Murray about the state of the Australian economy and what he sees as the Labor government’s profligate spending.
For Rinehart, Labor’s spending has not been matched by the investment or policy necessary to establish a platform for entrepreneurs to grow their business and create wealth.
These are, she argues, simple values that Australians used to hold dear in a better time.
“It goes back to something Australians used to understand well; almost every home understood that you had to earn the revenue before you could spend it. Then you had to make choices: it might be nice to have overseas holidays, but maybe we should renovate the bathroom and/or kitchen, fix the roof, do the extension, save for a granny flat et cetera.
“Proper planning and allocation within the budget constraints had to occur. This may not be popular, but we need to get back to these basic understandings, and, very importantly for Australia, so do our overspending governments.”
A lifetime of government interference
But it’s not just current governments that have thwarted Australia’s development. Rinehart goes on to tell the story of the early career of her father Lang Hancock, who in her view had his attempts to start iron ore mining in the north of Western Australia thwarted by bureaucratic bunglings of federal and state politicians.
“So with the government combination of Perth and Canberra ‘looking after us’, the opening of the major Pilbara iron ore industry was delayed by around 10 years…Try living 10 years without much more than a few rough roads and being 100 miles or more on long, bumpy roads from the nearest post office, or adequate hospital.”
Never mind that Rinehart’s family had a plane they could use to fly to town, or that she spent many years at a prestigious boarding school in Perth – the people of the north had to endure “10 years of federal and state governments ‘knowing best’”.
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