Australia’s billionaires enjoy a pay bump of 52.4% thanks to demand from crippled overseas economies for the nation’s natural resources, but the spoils go to the chosen few, widening the gulf between the ‘gots’ and ‘not gots’.
Rich lists are a funny thing – they never really give you a warm, fuzzy feeling. Quite the opposite in fact.
While those who compile them are motivated by an inquisitive nature – Who owns what? Where does all the money go? – these tables ranking life’s financial success stories do nothing more than simply irritate those who fail to feature – pretty much everyone else – and remind us all of our own paltry bank account balances.
To discover that among all the world’s billionaires, those from my native Australia have benefited to a mind-boggling extent from the hideous coronavirus pandemic does not fill me with warming patriotic pride. It makes me feel nauseous.
Australia’s elite top one percent of one-percenters have seen their wealth increase by 52.4 percent more than at the same time last December. More so than billionaires in any other nation – the US and UK uber-wealthy have seen bumps to their fortunes of less than half that figure.
Much of that unfathomable wealth comes from Australia’s booming, virtually recession-proof mining industry. Although we most often think of anonymous, boardroom-steered multinational corporations controlling that sector, in Australia, the industry has a face, and that belongs to Gina Rhinehart, Australia’s richest person.
The 66-year-old heiress is executive chairman of Hancock Prospecting, a massive mining business she inherited from her father, Lang Hancock, that continues its relentless task of stripping Australia of its national resources and sending them to China and elsewhere around the globe.
The corporate website videos of Hancock Prospecting are hilariously tone deaf in this modern age of concern for the planet. They showcase the large-scale industrial techniques used in open pit mining as the topography is blasted into weird and wonderful new formations as the iron ore and other resources are extracted before the whole operation moves on to the next location.
Undeniably the source of incredible wealth, mining is nevertheless a soulless, scorched-earth activity, with gigantic, outsized trucks and bulldozers endlessly digging and dumping, drilling rigs operated remotely from thousands of kilometres away, workers accommodated in rows and rows of joyless identikit prefab houses, with not a single tree in sight.
Despite all the evidence of activity, there is no sense of humanity anywhere. Which is why Rio Tinto, one of the big multinational operators in the Pilbara region of northern Western Australia, presumably decided to blow up a 46,000-year-old site of huge significance to the indigenous people of the area. Who cares? There’s no one here anyway.