The world’s richest woman, mining magnate Gina Rinehart, reached a new low in September when she declared, in a video addressed her cronies at the Sydney Mining Club, that “Australia is becoming too expensive and too uncompetitive to do export-oriented business. Africans want to work, and its workers are willing to work for less than $2 per day.”
At that rate, it would take an ordinary worker around 100,000 days, or 274 years, to afford the mining magnate’s famous $200,000 string of pearls.
Rinehart’s obscene wealth, estimated at $30 billion, is inherited from her father, Lang Hancock, who “discovered” iron ore in the Hamersley ranges outside Perth. Good timing saw that this coincided with an explosion of global demand for the mineral.
Rinehart has been anxious to profligate the myth that the Australian people are indebted to Hancock Prospecting for bringing “life and wealth” to Australia.
But tellingly, a recent ACTU report found that less than 10 per cent of the total income earned from mining has been paid in wages and salaries to its workforce. This is the root of Rinehart’s wealth—the super exploitation her workers, who are paid only a fraction of the immense wealth they generate for her.
Yet Rinehart thinks we owe gratitude for the theft of the super rich, using it to justify attacks on the wages and entitlements of working people. Her recent calls for a special economic zone “stretching across northern Queensland, northern West Australia and the Northern Territory, with fewer regulations and taxes” shows she’s determined to steal as much of the mining boom as possible.
It’s tempting to dismiss the loony rhetoric of Rinehart and her band of warring brothers, Andrew “Twiggy” Forest and Clive Palmer. But the fact remains these rabid ruling class warriors are at the extreme end of the brutal logic that governs the distribution of wealth and power in society.
All bosses are constantly arguing for new measures to lower wages and attack working conditions. The recent drive by the retail industry to scrap weekend penalty rates is one such example. They are driven by the rat race of competition for profit to increase our exploitation.
Treasurer Wayne Swan has tried to position himself against the mad miners, saying in March that, “Politicians have a choice: between standing up for workers and kneeling down at the feet of the Gina Rineharts and the Clive Palmers”. Yet his government cut the mining tax from its original $9 billion to a measly $3.5 billion and want to further cut corporate tax.
Meanwhile, despite all the talk that “Australians have never had it so good”, the gap between rich and poor is steadily rising. The incomes of the top 20 per cent of households rose four times faster than the bottom 20 per cent between the mid-1990s and late 2000s. In the last year twelve more Australian families joined the “ultra wealthy” taking the total to 231 households that have more than $US100 million ($94 million) in personal wealth.
Far from “standing up for the workers” our government has knelt at every opportunity for Gina Rinehart and the 1 per cent she represents.
By Geraldine Fela